Mister Foe

The title character in “Hallam Foe” (retitled “Mister Foe” in the U.S.) is a 17-year-old Scottish boy, played by Jamie Bell, who has had trouble adjusting to his mother’s death two years ago. And when I say he’s had trouble adjusting, I mean that he’s become a peeping Tom who sometimes wears makeup like war paint and spends hours poring over his mother’s death certificate.

Quirks like that make the film, based on Peter Jinks’ novel, more intriguing than it would be if it were, say, an ordinary coming-of-age story about a young man coping with the loss of his mother, which is essentially what it is. Jamie Bell’s central performance helps, too. Ever since he was Billy Elliot he’s had a knack for getting past the clichés when playing quiet misfits (see also “The Chumscrubber” and “Undertow”), and “Hallam Foe” is another impressive item for his résumé.

Hallam’s home life was disrupted when his businessman father (Ciarán Hinds) married his beautiful secretary, Verity (Claire Forlani), not long after Hallam’s mother died. Hallam resents Verity, and with his older sister now gone off to college, it’s just him, his dad, and his wicked stepmother at home. Circumstances come together to force him out of the nest, though — and “nest” is almost literal, since he’s been living in a treehouse in the back yard since Verity moved in — and he goes to London to live on his own.

He takes a job in the kitchen at a posh hotel, largely because the director of human resources is the beautiful Kate Breck (Sophia Myles), who Hallam thinks looks just like his dear departed mother. Hallam becomes obsessed with her. Does he want to sleep with her, or does he want her to be his mother? Or both? He and Kate have drinks one night, and after Hallam says of his mother, “She’s dead, would you like to meet her?,” Kate says, “I like creepy guys.” She has no idea.

No, it’s not a movie about a serial killer, though it certainly could have gone that way. Hallam’s obsessions are mostly harmless, albeit intrusive of others’ privacy, and director David Mackenzie (“Young Adam”) keeps the focus on the lad’s psychology. (Giles Nuttgen’s moody, sexy cinematography enhances the effect.) Hallam’s still in the grieving process, whether he realizes it or not, and all the odd things he does are part of that. It’s a modestly effective story, even a little moving in a weird way, and worth watching for Bell’s intriguing and sympathetic performance.

B (1 hr., 31 min.; R, a lot of harsh profanity, some very strong sexuality, some nudity.)