Hallam Foe makes for some uncomfortable viewing. There’s an odd incongruency between the dark, grizzly themes of the film, and the regularly upbeat, trivial manner with which they’re dealt. It’s a piece about depression, suicide, voyeuristic addiction and latent necrophilia. But it’s delivered with an awkward ease and nonchalance. The result is a remarkably strange film that seems to have very little to say, or at least be confused about what its core messages are.
Whether this is also true of the source material, Peter Jinks’ 2001 novel of the same name, is something I can’t comment on. My instinct says it probably isn’t. The 95 minutes of running time here feels fleeting, skipping impertenently between emotions and narrative nuance, driving on towards a satisfying conclusion that never really arrives. Maybe that’s the point. That life doesn’t lead to an end point at every turn. It evolves, and shifts unpredictably, forcing you to rethink your outlook and reshape your behaviour accordingly.
But this doesn’t seem to ring true for the film’s eponymous protagnost. Hallam, a troubled teen fleeing from the apparent tyranny of his stepmother, chooses to carry on spying from the rooftops at the object of his affection, even after he’s already secured a shag and a second date. The character interplay is frequently confusing, with moods and opinions changing faster than it’s possible to keep up with. “Get out,” Kate commands Hallam, before seconds later stating that he doesn’t have to leave if he doesn’t want, the shift occuring without any real build-up.
This seems to be the ground from which Hallam Foe is erected. At its heart is a collection of confused and afraid characters, unsure of what they want, or the direction they wish to take in life. Hallam spends the majority of the film convinced his father’s new wife was responsible for the death of his mother. It never goes anywhere, and most of the big questions lead to unexpectadly bland answers. It’s a film about paranoia, when there’s never anything to be paranoid about.
There’s a heavy influence of European New Wave on display here, in the abstract cinematography, the mundanity of everyday life, and the portrayal of disaffected individuals trying to break free of their inner turmoil. But it lacks the poignancy of those it mimics. Hallam Foe struggles to say anything meaningful, as there’s barely a shred of honesty about it. It strives towards realism on many occasions, but the picture it paints is unconvincing, despite the solid acting from everyone involved. The enormous amounts of graphic sexuality never shock, as they’re seen from the far-removed eyes of a deeply disturbed mind. But while explicit, it’s never really raunchy. As Hallam peeks through Kate’s window as she rumps with her manager, the only thought on his mind is how much she looks like his mother, and how greatly he misses her.
The problem is that, while Hallam Foe wants you to identify with its lead, his behaviour is consistently so abhorrent that it’s difficult to do so. We sympathise, but never empathise. As a result, for all its artistry, Hallam Foe remains somewhat unsatisfying, despite being an interesting and thought-provoking picture.