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Hallam Foe review

He lives in a treehouse festooned with wall-sized pictures of his dead mother. He sneaks out in the dead of night to spy on his neighbours. He wears a badger pelt for a hat and draws lipstick circles around his nipples.

Suffice to say that if Jamie Bell were looking for a character to erase the lingering image of Billy Elliot from the public consciousness, he could hardly have picked one better than the titular hero of this deliciously twisted rites-of-passage yarn from Young Adam director David Mackenzie.

OK, so there’s nothing quite so perverse here as the earlier film’s infamous custard sex scene. But Hallam, a voyeuristic recluse from a wealthy Highland clan who refuses to accept his late mum perished by her own hand, still gets to screw his evil stepmother (Claire Forlani) behind the back of his ineffectual father (Ciarán Hinds) before running away to Edinburgh, there to form an Oedipal crush on pretty young hotel HR manager Kate (Thunderbird Sophia Myles), who bears more than a passing resemblance to the woman who bore him.

Not freaky enough for you? No problem. Because as soon as he gets himself a job cleaning dishes at Kate’s workplace and finds a hideaway up in its deserted clock tower, Hallam starts spending evenings clambering over rooftops to watch her trysts with thuggish lover Jamie Sives through a bedroom skylight. Is this a firm foundation for a lasting relationship? “I like creepy guys!” smiles Kate, which is a good thing given Hallam’s nocturnal peccadilloes.

As weird as its protagonist is, though, Hallam Foe casts an alluringly romantic spell, the Gothic drama of the Scottish capital’s imposing, granite-hewn architecture blending with DoP Giles Nuttgens’ soulful widescreen visuals and a pert indie soundtrack to invigorating effect.

 

Working from Peter Jinks’ 2001 novel, Mackenzie and co-writer Ed Whitmore serve up a jauntily Celtic take on the traditional teen movie that’s part Catcher In The Rye, part Harold And Maude. What it isn’t – refreshingly – is Trainspotting 2, Mackenzie shunning his location’s recently acquired patina of junkie cool in favour of a timeless, ethereal sheen more in tune with something by Iain Banks than Irvine Welsh.

The performances are superb throughout, from Myles’ complex object of desire to Forlani’s scheming witch to Ewen Bremner (well, perhaps there is a bit of Trainspotting after all) as a cocky bellhop who shows Hallam the ropes.

But this is ultimately Bell’s film, the young actor stepping beyond the addled adolescents of Dear Wendy and The Chumscrubber to emerge as a fully fledged leading man at last.

“I made a mistake!” gasps his tortured outcast after a climactic act of retribution threatens to consume him. Rest assured, Hallam Foe is anything but.

Get past the goofy animated titles and you'll be captivated by a coming-of-age tale with a subversive edge. The hero may be have a few hang-ups, but Jamie Bell's an ideal star for such defiantly off-kilter fare.

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