After the death of his mother, eccentric teen loner Hallam Foe (Bell) runs away from his fathers country home. Living rough in Edinburgh, he gets a job as a hotel kitchen porter and becomes unhealthily obsessed with a girl in Human Resources.
In the space of four features, David Mackenzie has established himself as a singular and frustratingly underrated talent. His films are as protean as those of Michael Winterbottom but, for some reason, his name is usually overshadowed by those of his cast. And in the case of his most artistically satisfying film, Young Adam, it wasn’t even those that took the column inches in the reviews, but the messy custard-and-ketchup sex scene.
His last film, Asylum, was a muted follow-up that thwarted the momentum which was building - had Hallam Foe arrived then, it would have done wonders for his profile, confirming Mackenzie as a director with a vision. Not to mention an eye for sexual provocation; here, Jamie Bell and Sophia Myles make a terrific couple, sparking a weird erotic charge, morbid but also riveting in the way such relationships can be.
Myles does well in such murky psychic waters. Her performance as Kate Breck is refreshingly complex; she’s a girl who knows what she wants and takes it, however selfish those desires. Similarly, Bell offers more than a pathetic foil, playing Foe with a strange, schizophrenic cockiness that surfaces, often unexpectedly, throughout the film.
The most striking aspect of Hallam Foe, however, is its upside-downness, its focus on the rooftops and nooks of Edinburgh’s Grassmarket to create Foe’s lonely kingdom. There’s something truly unsettling about the tiles and spires that gives Foe’s unhinged state of mind a kaleidoscopic beauty, a sense that the only way down is up, and, as the film’s strangely upbeat and cathartic ending suggests, vice versa.
The sole problem with Hallam Foe is its structure. Adapted from Peter Jinks’ novel, it feels like an adapted novel, coming to life during picaresque and sometimes hilarious scenes filmed in the Caledonian Hotel but faltering whenever Mackenzie returns to The Story of Foe and his neuroses and how they come to be vanquished.
It puts the film in good company, but although it worked for Fight Club, Hallam Foe’s bathetic you-met-me-at-a-strange-time-in-my-life coda might not satisfy those expecting something more hard-edged from a director whose past work suggests a willingness to go somewhere more original.
An intriguing rites-of-passage story with a delirious, skewed perspective and an almost palpable sexual pulse.