(30/08/07) – "I like creepy guys" declares hotel HR officer Kate, which is just as well because she has found one in the shape of Hallam Foe – disaffected youth and voyeur. David Mackenzie’s dark but comic exploration of obsession and social ostracism is a compelling mixture of thriller and character study that returns to similar themes to those featured in his earlier, controversial, feature Young Adam(2003). But Hallam Foe is a more aggressively bizarre story that contrasts the Scotland of large wealthy country estates with the bustling bright lights of city living. Although set in a recognisable contemporary setting this is, nevertheless, a fantasy about lust and obsession filmed with an eye for colour and extremity.
Hallam passes his time spying on his neighbours from a ramshackle tree-house cum shrine to his dead mother. When on the warpath he daubs himself with paint and dons an impressive badger headpiece. His sociopathic behaviour causes conflict, not just for the canoodling couples he watches from the bushes but also with his rich father and his stepmother. Hallam becomes convinced that his stepmother was responsible for his mother’s drowning and, following an altercation with his family, leaves home for Edinburgh, where he stalks the rooftops, invisible to the people below. On one such night he spots Kate, a dead ringer for his mother and sets about becoming part of her life.
What sets Hallam Foe apart is the contrast with its genres and expectations – this is not a film that is easily shoehorned into a category (ostensibly drama and romance, but it could fit in thriller, tragedy, comedy or horror as well). At times the film effortlessly segues from laugh out loud comedy to the depths of tragedy, exploring very dark areas that leave you simultaneously sympathising with and yet despising the main character. The depth of character is not limited to Hallam but extends to the rest of the cast, most notably the stepmother whose on-going rivalry with Hallam forms the backbone of the story. She photocopies his secret observational notes, he spies on her activities, she uses sex as a weapon to bring him down a notch, he plans an elaborate revenge.
But this conflict is put on hold during the central segment of the film when Hallam’s semi-rural life is transported to urban Edinburgh and becomes a bizarre cross between a love story and Rambo-esque survival techniques. Glowing cinematography depicts Hallam’s feline stalking of the rooftops, peering through skylights to observe his prey, Kate, either just preparing dinner or having sex with the odious (and married) Alasdair. Hallam is played by Jamie Bell, reprising the athleticism of his debut role in Billy Elliot (2000) but adding a complex emotional character to the physicality – it’s an excellent performance. Make no mistake, though, however idiosyncratic the film appears to be it nevertheless is willing to broach very strong material, especially in Hallam’s revenge plans and in a graphic sex scene between Kate and Alasdair, where the latter is aware that he is being spied upon by Hallam.
Unlike the terminally dull hardcore of 9 Songs (2004) or the embarrassed fumblings of most British on-screen sex this has actual relevance to the plot and does not come across as either coy or gratuitous, a fine line to tread. Further adding to the mix is a superb and distinctive soundtrack of contemporary music from (mainly) Domino Recording Co. artists which, with its distinctive and often disturbing use of rhythm and indefinable noises helps counterpoint the on-screen activities.
From the quirky opening animations Hallam Foe is contemporary independent film-making at its best – individual, witty and dark, taking the viewer to the edge but always with a hint of hope and humanity. An enticing mix of revenge, blackmail, sex, violence, business politics, comedy, family feuds, perversion and social commentary.
Hallam Foe opens today in Germany and tomorrow in the UK. Later openings include German Switzerland (04 October), Belgium (24 October) and the Netherlands (17 January 2008).