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Evolution (2016) Review

Evolution is a 2015 French horror film now finally available on VOD in the United States, about a boy living in a small seaside village who learns something isn’t right about the little world he lives in.

EvolutionThe film opens underwater in murky but colorful seas filled with coral and schools of fish. For nearly four minutes we hover under the waves as the broken sunlight flits about the shallows. It’s a strangely ominous moment that grows dark when a boy emerges in the undulating water, swimming down to the floor below where he spots what he thinks is a body in the coral, a crimson red starfish clinging to its belly.

Back on shore, he runs into the nearby town, a tight collection of tainted ivory white block-ish homes snuggled atop of long bed of volcanic rock not far from the water. He explains what he saw to his mother, who dismisses his encounter, and then takes to the water to show he is wrong, his friends watching as she comes ashore with a starfish and claims there is no corpse. We soon learn the community is all women and young boys. All are blonde and wear drab neutral garb. The women cook green slimy meals and administer a sort of liquid medication to their sons before they sleep.

The boy, named Nicholas (Max Brebant), is a curious one and he becomes aware that the relationships he and his fellow boys have with the women is not a maternal one, but something clinical as he and the others undergo specific treatments and are treated as if under medical care rather than by family. There are no men, which is already troubling, but when Nicholas escapes his room one night and sneaks into the tall grass and witnesses a group of nude women writhing about on the ground, it only convinces him that all he sees is not right.

Directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Evolution is a film of few words, a visual odyssey that finds more pleasure in raising questions than answering them. This is a journey of symbolism, a polished sensory nightmare that revels in its often disturbing yet compelling imagery. Who are these women, most dressed as nurses? Why are they so protective and sterile with their boys? Themes emerge, haunting, sometimes sickening ones, that probe expectations of gender, rape, torture, fear and more, heavily weighing on the experience. 

Evolution, 2016 ©Les Films du Worso,

The film is almost oppressively bleak, with rare bits of color beyond the dull sallow yellows and greens. The brilliant red starfish is paired by the equally red swimming trunks Nicholas wears in the water. And the starfish itself becomes a motif of sorts, it following along in the story and seen in shape only as when the women congregate in the nude or in the shape of the lights above an operating table.

The title gives some clue as to the reason why these boys exists and to the treatments they receive and what the women are. There are opaque clues that suggest exactly what we think is happening might be true, but Hadzihalilovic is careful to remain ambiguous. There is a determination in her message but also an obstinate lack of clarity that is equally fixed. Are we watching the past? Is this the future? Is it even our planet? A final shot that lingers with inexhaustible frustration for suggesting a possible answer to it all offers nothing definite, instead only adding another layer upon the heap.

While there is no denying the morbid beauty of the visuals, this being a French horror film and such, there is a noticeable absence of something to connect with. Nicholas serves as our guide, running and swimming and sneaking his way through the Kafka-esque landscape, yet the coldness of it all wears heavily, draining, for lack of a better term, humanity. That is surely intentional, as is the sorrow, and the worry, and the questions it all invokes. Evolution is a thoroughly challenging film, but the conversation it will inspire after is one well worth having.

Evolution (2016)

Film Credits

Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Writers: Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Alante Kavaite
Stars: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier
Genre: Horror, Drama
Language: French

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