Director – Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Cast – Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Mathieu Goldfeld, Nissim Renard
Release Year – 2016
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Evolution is the sophomore effort for French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic, and fans of her debut film Innocence had to wait over a decade for this one. I took my time getting to this effort because I had a feeling it wouldn’t be what I expected it to be. The plot summaries I read caught my attention thanks to what appeared to be an interesting mystery element. It sounded exciting to me, but the trailers gave me a different vibe. Sure enough, I was right. Evolution is an experience that will polarize audiences. Those wanting a story that leaves the viewer fulfilled with be disappointed. For those that want a visually engaging, slow-burning experience that leaves you with more questions than answers, I present Evolution.
Nicholas is a 10 year old boy living on a remote island whose only inhabitants are women and boys his age. When he discovers the drowned body of a young boy, he is shocked by the response his mother gives him. Little does he know, his nightmare is only beginning. Nicholas has never thought to question the world around him, but he begins to suspect that his elders have sinister plans. Why are he and the boys subjected to strange medical treatments, and where do all the women go to at night? As he finds his way closer to the truth he discovers horrors he never expected, and from those he always trusted.
Hadzihalilovic co-writes the film with two others, and their story will breed both horror and controversy. The story’s use of Nicholas’ claim of finding a body in the ocean is the story’s inception. He is skeptical of the nonchalant reaction he received to his claim, and he makes it his mission to find out what his elders could be hiding. It is obvious that something is awry. Nicholas and his friends are told that because they are “sick” they must be treated for their illnesses. The procedures they undergo seem to have nothing to do with whatever mild illness they could maybe have. Couple this with the disappearances of their peers after leaving for surgery and you have a conspiracy.
The writers elected to intentionally leave out a lot of elements to the story. We see ideas go nowhere, which will naturally irk some viewers. I believe this was intentional, as it not only leaves us in the dark over what is going on, but shows us that like Nicholas, the horror stemming from the island leaves him powerless. You’ll want to know more about the story. Why are there only women? Who is in charge? Whose idea was it to do what they do, and for what purpose? This isn’t that type of film. This is more in the vein of The Eyes of My Mother – a cinematic “art house” flick with little to no story. We do get some answers towards the end of the film, and I must say that these scenes delivered on the horror. I wish there would have been more horror, but again, there isn’t much story to begin with.
It is the film’s direction that sells here, and Hadzihalilovic shows off her chops. From the get-go she sets up and atmosphere that sucks you in. There is minimal music, if any, in the film. All you have as far as your senses go are the visuals and ambient noises provided by the crashing waves. You’ll feel just like Nicholas does – trapped and alone. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosse deserves recognition for the amazing visuals. His cinematography is fantastic, and is equally responsible for the effective atmosphere delivered to the viewer. Hadzihalilovic’s execution needed to be exemplary if she hoped to keep the viewer’s attention with little storyline, and she does just that. The few horrific scenes we do have are terrifying. I was left wanting more after each of the scenes, and of course, I was also left wanting answers. This is that type of film. These flicks really aren’t my cup of tea and I would probably refrain from watching this again. However, I must say that the filmmakers succeeded in doing what they set out to do. There is definitely an audience for this type of film, and if that is you then I suggest you give this a go.
Overall, Evolution is an atmospheric slow-burner that is likely to please fans of such films. Hadzihalilovic’s direction is superb, making the most of this thin story.