The latest take on the off-kilter coming-of-age tale, “Mister Foe” brings a brogue, voyeurism and a mother obsession to the familiar mix of trauma, dysfunction, romance and recovery. The result is a charmer. A strong central performance and an immersing tone yield some appealing kink and connection.
Writer-director David Mackenzie, who made the carnal drama “Young Adam,” gets nuttier and breezier with this Scottish serving of pathological whimsy co-adapted with Ed Whitmore from a Peter Jinks novel.
Echoes of Hitchcock exist in the thriller elements, and the protagonist’s road toward maturity contains few real surprises; still, style, atmosphere and human spark provide distinctive appeal.
A blend of Spider-Man, Oedipus and the eternal restless teen, Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell, “Billy Elliot”) is a grieving 17-year-old who, from a tree house on his father’s Highlands estate, spies on people.
Mostly, his binoculars focus on stepmother Verity (Claire Forlani). Hallam deems Verity a “white-trash gold digger” who murdered his mother, whose death was ruled a suicide, so she could marry his “lapdog” dad (Ciaran Hinds).
After an unwholesome encounter with Verity, Hallam relocates to Edinburgh, where he spies from the rooftops. His determination to convict Verity fades until denouement time, and a love story takes over, when Hallam spots Kate (Sophia Myles), a doppelganger of his mother, and follows her to the hotel where she works.
He gets a job there, spies on Kate and her married boyfriend (Jamie Sives), and, after a drunken evening with Kate, becomes her lover.
There’s nothing particularly bold or extraordinary about this film, whose kink is treated lightly and whose protagonist’s unsavory behavior is explained with the sympathetic element of grief.
The filmmakers offer nothing deep about the effects of loss. Verity seems to exist largely to suggest wicked-stepmother potential. The quickness with which Kate embraces Hallam after learning he’s been stalking her isn’t believable.
Yet there’s some winningly semisweet, and intriguingly weird, perversity, and the scenes of Hallam lurking on Edinburgh’s photogenic rooftops are marvelously stylish.
Beneath the cool, Mackenzie nicely emphasizes human qualities, and Bell delivers. In an impressively nuanced performance, Bell conveys both common teen frustration and unusual personal pathology.
His Hallam is entertaining, sad, creepy, and inherently decent. His scenes with Myles’ Kate have magnetism and make the somewhat implausible love story work.
Even the indie-rock soundtrack, that requisite for teen-angst indies, doesn’t fare badly in this oddball pleaser.
Starring: Jamie Bell, Sophia Myles, Claire Forlani, Ciaran Hines
Written by: David Mackenzie, Ed Whitmore; based on a book by Peter Jinks
Directed by: David Mackenzie
Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes