In Hallam Foe, Jamie Bell continues to slough off the shadow of Billy Elliot, while director David Mackenzie (Young Adam) gets back on confident form after his unsteady psychodrama Asylum. But while it has panache to spare, this very Scottish coming-of-age story suffers from its insistence that audiences meet it on its own bizarre and never entirely plausible grounds.
An uneasy mix of dark Oedipal fantasy and not always digestible whimsy, plus a distinctly creepy though ostensibly simpatico hero, could make this a hard film for some audiences to swallow. Most likely outcome is a middling home reception, while European and other art-house markets are likely to take it more to heart as a case of distinctively British art cinema.
Bell plays the eponymous Hallam, a boy largely gone feral following the death of his mother. Convinced that wealthy businessman dad Julius (Hinds) has conspired to kill his wife, in cahoots with her vampy young English successor Verity (Forlani), Hallam has taken to his treehouse on the family's Highlands estate, occasionally venturing forth to make trouble dressed in warpaint and a badger-skin headdress.
After an unexpected sexual encounter with the devious Verity, Hallam runs off to Edinburgh, forsaking treetops for rooftops. Spotting a young woman, Kate (Myles), who looks uncannily like his dead mother, Hallam parlays himself into a job at the hotel where Kate works, and eventually into her affections - but only after a run-in with Kate's brutish married lover, hotel manager Alasdair (Sives).
Whether or not you take to the film depends on whether you accept the idea that likeable, boyish hero is also deeply disturbed, a stalker and voyeur with a sexual fixation on his mother's doppelganger.
Hallam Foe also depends on us buying into its recreation of a modern-day Edinburgh that is at once recognisably everyday and dreamlike: Hallam's own kingdom, which he surveys from his eyrie atop a clocktower. The film is arguably most successful in evoking this alternative Edinburgh, the city featuring more prominently than in any film since Trainspotting.
The film is less successful, however, in tying up its psychological and emotional loose strands, and narratively, a definite whiff of where-is-this-all-leading' hovers over the proceedings, although some audiences might find this pleasantly tantalising.
Jamie Bell is likeable and energetic as Hallam, but less successful at making his character's delusional and homicidal aspects convincing. As Kate, Sophia Myles sensitively straddles the uneasy divide between tough career woman and confused sexual and emotional stray. Among the smaller roles, Ewan Bremner has a few show-stopping moments as a droll concierge.
Giles Nuttgens gives the city and its interiors an imposing, sometimes magical widescreen presence. Mackenzie directs with assertive brio, and the film certainly won't harm his increasing reputation as a nonconformist among Brit directors; his one questionable decision is to plaster the film indiscriminately with indie pop (Pastels, Franz Ferdinand, King Creosote et al) from the Domino Recording label.
Coy, jokey opening credits by modish artist David Shrigley set a whimsical tone that the film never quite shakes off.
Ingenious Film Partners
Glasgow Film Finance
Independent Film Sales
Buena Vista International
Based on the novel by Peter Jinks