Before FOE director Garth Davis begins making a film, he likes to listen to the land.
“In all of my work, if I’m involved from the beginning, I just want to put boots on the ground. I need to honor where the story came from,” Davis tells MovieMaker.
That’s the approach he took while making the sci-fi thriller, which arrives in theaters Friday from Amazon Studios.
Starring Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal, FOE is based on Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, with whom Davis wrote the screenplay. It follows Ronan as Henrietta and Mescal her husband, Junior, in the year 2065. Their quiet life in an old Midwestern farmhouse is turned upside-down when a mysterious man named Terrance (Aaron Pierre) informs them that Junior has been drafted into a new government program that will begin to move humans off of the dying Earth and into space.
Davis’ boots on the ground approach has worked like a charm for him in the past. Before making his 2016 film Lion starring Dev Patel as Saloo Brierley on his journey back to his birthplace to find his long-lost family, Davis first traveled to India to retrace the real-life Brierley’s footsteps.
He followed that same strategy again by visiting Jerusalem, Israel before getting started on his 2018 film Mary Magdalene starring Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus and Rooney Mara as his famous follower.
“I just have to feel it and get a sense of it as much as I can. Sometimes the things I request are unusual. It seems to be, I like to go fairly deep and I like a long prep time,” Davis says. “I think a lot of moviemaking is all about efficiency and numbers, but I’m more of an artist and really want to feel things psychically and intuitively.”
Garth Davis on the Making of FOE
Following that hands-on filmmaking style, before writing the script for FOE, Davis and Reid paid a visit to Canada so Davis could see the real-life landscapes that Reid was looking at while he was envisioning the American Midwest while writing the book.
“Even before we put pen to paper, I really wanted Iain to drive me around Ontario, Canada to see all the things and the farms and the places that inspired the novel. I just needed to get inside of his experience,” Davis says.
“On that journey in the car, we would just be listening to music that might be the score of the movie. So the whole time, we’re kind of making choices and exploring. For me, it’s a very immersive, creative process.”
The benefits of Davis’ instinct to make a pilgrimage to the land behind the story became evident when something amazing happened on his and Reid’s trip.
“As we’re driving along, over the rise appeared this gorgeous old farmhouse. And I mean, I got chills just seeing it, and so did Iain. He stopped the car, and I said, ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This is such a beautiful house,'” Davis says.
Minutes later, Davis and Reid stopped at the local general store and ran into the owner by “complete fate,” Davis says.
“We were inside that house within 20 minutes, looking around it. It was kind of extraordinary. That became the spiritual totem for the movie, and then we ended up building that house in Australia,” he says.
Again, the spirit of the land in Australia let Davis know it was the right place to shoot the film. So he decided to rebuild a replica of that Canadian farmhouse in his home country, making it look just like the dying farm from Reid’s book.
“I was on a random camping trip with the family in Australia. We went two hours out of Melbourne. I had no idea where we were going, and we just went into this national park, and it was just full of dead trees,” Davis says.
“It was unbelievable. We got there just as the sun was setting — that kind of panicked, putting up the tents moment. And in the distance, I saw a car driving through the trees, and it just reminded me of Terrance’s card coming up the drive. So it just dawned on me that maybe we should build a house here.
“It just felt so perfect, and the power of that landscape in Australia, that kind of the spirit in the land and that feeling of death in the trees is very powerful. So putting the set there meant that even the crew, the people, everyone that comes to it is feeling the truth of our story.”
FOE arrives in theaters in the U.S. on Oct. 6 before it begins streaming on Prime Video.
Main Image: Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal in FOE courtesy of Amazon Studios