Young Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell) is convinced that his stepmother (Claire Forlani) accelerated her upward trajectory from dad’s secretary to dad’s wife by offing his mom, but the coroner says it was suicide. An unswayed Hallam sublimates his grief and loathing into spying on couples going at it, dad (Ciaran Hinds) and stepmom primarily. After sleeping with the latter, he runs off to Glasgow, finds a doppelgänger for his deceased parent in Kate (Sophia Myles), and sets about spying on her in the bedroom.
These are unlikely components for a comedy—which Mister Foe, against the odds, definitely is. Co-writer/director David Mackenzie has jokingly claimed this as the capstone of his “sex trilogy” (2003’s mostly celebrated Young Adam and 2005’s mostly ignored Asylum preceded it), a threesome (har) of films extrapolating a single idea: In Mackenzie’s world, wholesome sex is a possibility for other people, but never for the (anti-)hero, whose couplings are always the sublimated expression of something else. What makes Mister Foe such unlikely fun, though, is Bell’s accomplished smart-ass routine and Mackenzie’s blithe attitude toward taboos. Every possible voyeuristic/incestuous kink gets a workout. “I like creepy guys,” Kate declares, but she doesn’t know the half of it. This is gonzo Mackenzie—a good thing—but some caveats: Up until the last psychotic break, Mister Foe coddles its hero’s stalker tendencies a bit too much, threatening to transform them into mere Sundance quirk. (The acid of the upcoming In the City of Sylvia, which once and for all takes the romanticism out of obsessive behavior, is missed here.) The whole thing’s poised uneasily somewhere between urban fairy tale and actual human psychodrama, never really landing in one place or the other. And those for whom “hipster” is the ultimate pejorative might want to steer clear: Animated opening credits (courtesy of David Shrigley) are set to Orange Juice, and the soundtrack’s filled with an all-star, nearly-all-Scottish cast of very fashionable bands. What’s left, though, is wit and extreme style, and that’s enough. Mackenzie’s camera is constantly moving, creating a sinuous trip. Cameras glide through rooms and zoom in on Glasgow’s crowded buildings. Best of all, they crane over Foe’s head when he’s perched in one of his voyeuristic setups on the roof, inducing not vertigo but glee at Mackenzie’s skill.