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Home > ‘Foe’ (2023): A Review

‘Foe’ (2023): A Review

“Foe” is a sci-fi drama involving our future rivals: AI-driven androids that are deepfakes of ourselves. Saoirse Ronan stars as Hen and Paul Mescal as Junior in "Foe" (2023).

The Foe Here Is Bad Storytelling

The American Midwest of 2065 is a tarnished desert interspersed with dead, sunbleached trees. Hen (Saoirse Ronan) and her husband, Junior (Paul Mescal), occupy a farmhouse that has been in his family for generations, but they don’t seem much occupied with each other. One fateful evening, a stranger, Terrance (Aaron Pierre), an agent for the OuterMore aerospace corporation, drives up. He notifies the twosome that Junior has been picked by lottery to perform important duties to restore the Earth’s climate, but he will be required to work on a space station for two years. OuterMore will provide a “human substitute,” some kind of android, an AI duplicate of Junior, to take his place while he’s away. Will this deepfake in the flesh become his marital and romantic rival? 

The Frankensteins of 2023

Foe’s pedigree can be traced back through films like those in the Matrix series, the Terminator series, Blade Runner (1982), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to the father of science fiction stories, Frankenstein, and beyond to its progenitor in Greek mythology, Prometheus. The essential moral of these stories is that only tragedy will befall mere mortals who attempt to usurp the powers of the gods – as in creating creatures in their own image. In today’s AI zeitgeist, that image is consciousness. In the Terminator and Matrix movies, the real sentience of artificial intelligence dooms humankind to the apocalypse. But, like the monster in Frankenstein, it’s the creatures, the supercomputer of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the replicants of Blade Runner – and Junior’s human substitute in Foe – that are also tragic. 

Foe wasn’t the only descendant of Frankenstein in 2023. Most notably, there was Poor Things (2023), which basically distills Frankenstein and ironically twists it into a darkly comedic and fantastic odyssey. Most importantly, there was an episode of the anthology series Black Mirror (2011- ), Season 6, Episode 3, “Beyond the Sea” that focuses on astronauts on a space station with replicas at their homes on Earth. That might sound dangerously familiar, but writer Iain Reid (I’m Thinking of Ending Things), who co-wrote Foe’s script with Director Garth Davis, originally wrote the story as a novel that was released in 2018, around five years before “Beyond the Sea” aired.    

“Beyond the Sea” succeeds as a captivating sci-fi tragedy, but Foe – not for lack of potential – all but fails. Most stories need a compelling hero. Foe lacks one. Junior doesn’t choose to do his duty. It’s chosen for him. Though Foe’s Earth has absolutely seen much better days, total catastrophe doesn’t seem impending.

“Foe” is a sci-fi drama involving our future rivals: AI-driven androids that are deepfakes of ourselves. Saoirse Ronan stars as Hen in "Foe."
Saoirse Ronan stars as Hen in “Foe.” Image courtesy of Amazon Studios.

There’s no threat of an extinction-level event. The story’s stakes are relatively low, and its final plot twist is vague, confusing, and gratuitously flattens the narrative’s arc. It’s unlikely that technology will evolve enough in just over forty years to fabricate a human substitute like Junior’s and even less likely that an agency would expend the extravagant expense involved just to maintain the continuity of Hen and Junior’s marriage. Foe eschews showing much of the science underlying its fiction, which isn’t engrossing enough to suspend disbelief. Now, when there is a concern with AI and deepfakes that spiral into paranoia and replacement theory is becoming infamous, Foe could have brought these current fears of these real issues into a more alarming narrative about intimate human relationships, but it misses the opportunity.  

An Award-Nominated Cast and Director

The trio of Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal, and Aaron Pierre have all been nominated for a bevy of trophies, from Academy Awards and Golden Globes to Screen Actors Guild Awards and NAACP Image Awards, with Ronan winning a Golden Globe for Lady Bird (2017), Mescal winning a BAFTA TV Award for the TV Mini-Series Normal People (2020), and Pierre winning a Canadian Screen Awards, CA for Brother (2022). Each does well, so, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault isn’t in our stars. Here, the fault is the story. Garth Davis has also been nominated for several awards, winning a Directors Guild of America, USA, for his breakout feature Lion (2016).  

A Tarnished World in Light and Sound

Davis darkly depicts Foe’s tarnished world on the brink of climate catastrophe visually and sonically. His scenes are tinted with a yellowed patina. They’re literally low-key and effectively contrast with the few blue or rose-hued sequences. A soundtrack of old-fashioned songs mostly long past their heyday in the fifties, sixties, and seventies run the gamut from forgotten artists like novelty performer Clarence “Frogman” Henry to The Temptations’ David Ruffin and Gil Scott-Heron with titles like “Ain’t Got No Home” and “The End of the World” complement the visuals and underscore the movie’s mood.

Friend or Foe? 

A friend of science fiction could do better than potentially wasting their time watching Foe unless they’re a fan of one of the principal actors. It’s mostly vague, confusing, and disappointing. The story of Black Mirror’s “Beyond the Sea,” which features Breaking Bad’s (2008-2013) Aaron Paul, arguably rivals it even if it might not compete in award-winning star power. 

Amazon Studios, Anonymous Content, and I Am That produced Foe. It was released on November 7, 2023. Foe is available to stream, rent, or buy on Amazon Prime.

“Foe” is a sci-fi drama involving our future rivals: AI-driven androids that are deepfakes of ourselves. Saoirse Ronan stars as Hen and Paul Mescal as Junior in "Foe" (2023).
Saoirse Ronan stars as Hen and Paul Mescal as Junior in “Foe” (2023).
Image courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Foe (2023) Official MGM Trailer

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James Keith La Croix has worked in and around the entertainment industry for years. He majored in film studies at Wayne State University and in Live Action Video at the College for Creative Studies. He wrote reviews, interviews, and features on cinema for the Detroit’s Metro Times.

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Elke Simmons' writing portfolio includes contributions to The Laredo Morning Times, Walt Disney World Eyes and Ears, Extinction Rebellion (XR) News/Blog, and Dead Talk News.