Science fiction has never been about the future. The best sci-fi uses an imagined end to create a critical distance between our present time and the fictional world in order to ask questions as to what we are doing rather than where we are heading.
The sci-fi film Foe by Garth Davis, adapted from Iain Reid’s novel, is set in the near future. Foe was filmed in Australia, where the landscape is an excellent representation of the post-climate apocalypse.
Henrietta and Junior (Saoirse Ronald) live in isolation in the American Midwest. The year is 2065, and a powerful technology corporation called OuterSense spearheads migration to The Installation. This orbiting artificial world is designed as a refuge from the dying planet Earth.
Junior has won the lottery he didn’t know he entered and is chosen to spend two years on The Installation. The couple only needs to make temporary space in their home for Terrance, an OuterSense Scientist (Aaron Pierre). Terrance will examine Junior and Hen’s interactions in order to create a “biological substitute” – an artificial husband with Junior’s personality and physiology. We are tempted to ask: What could go wrong here?
Not quite human
This is a classic sci-fi trope that asks questions about human nature. The cyborgs are a nod to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner as well as Bryan Forbes’ 1975 adaption of Ira Levin’s novel The Stepford Wives, where a group of men replace their feminist women with compliant cyborgs. Both films were landmarks in sci-fi because the scripts allowed actors to portray not-quite humans while also questioning the definition of “human.”
Foe asks similar questions. The audience can gain a fresh perspective by presenting familiar worlds in an unfamiliar context. This is called defamiliarisation. It is a sci-fi feature that allows strangeness to be revealed through subtle clues within the script rather than futuristic and other-worldly settings.
Foe’s flying cars, which are reminiscent of Blade Runner again, make a brief appearance at the end. This reinforces the idea that the future if it exists, is somewhere else. Like The Stepford Wives and Blade Runner, the costumes in Foe are a nod to the past and a time when the future was both futuristic and hi-tech, at least for the US.
Foe is set in a world that we can recognize on the verge of collapse. It forces us to consider the similarities between our past and present. Amazon Studios
Foe is notable for its nuanced performances by Ronan and Mescal, which strike the perfect balance between the conformity and happiness of a happy couple and the tension that arises when Junior starts to suspect he’s being manipulated. Aaron Pierre’s performance as Terrance is my personal favorite. He plays the part with a touch of indulgent kindness that you would reserve for a young child.
Who is the monster?
The majority of the action occurs in Hen’s and Junior’s house. It is both a refuge and a jail. Hen and Junior find shelter from the harsh weather but are also trapped in their house as OuterSense takes control. Terrance, as it slowly becomes clear, is conducting an experiment in which he is trying to extract parts of Junior’s character to create a copy that is more sensitive to Henrietta.