2016. Directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic.
Evolution is a cerebral puzzle box. A slow burn reverse horror film, Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s second feature is the definition of high art. Told in a deliberate whisper, with some of the most evocative cinematography of the year, this is a movie that poses endless conundrums and offers absolutely no relief.
Nicolas is one of many boys who live on a secluded island with an enigmatic group of female nurses.. While swimming in the ocean, Nicolas comes upon a body with a starfish attached to its stomach. The discovery forces Nicolas to question his reality and begin an exploration of the island’s dark secrets, leading to a terrifying discover in which the definition of humanity will be rewritten into a terrifying commentary of the propagation of a species.
Manuel Decosse’s camera work is a revelation. Using a combination of sharp colors and blinding light, exotic animals become harbingers of terror, as extreme close ups capture natural undulations in uncomfortable contexts. The underwater sequences, particularly in the opening, are so clear that they have a porcelain quality, perfectly representing Nicolas’s fragile world view that is precariously close to fracture. Nothing is overt, with even the film’s centerpiece, a shadowy “entanglement” being obscured in deep shadows, with torch light rippling across writhing flesh, but never fully revealing what is transpiring.
Hadzihalilovic and Alante Kavait’s script takes an extremely minimalist approach, using only the most basic of dialogue, allowing the visuals to do the lion’s share. The ideas of evolution, primal identity, and maturation are all in play, with each forming a pillar beneath the island’s happenings. Nurses watch surgery videos with a disquieting sense of pragmatism while the boys are subjected to archaic medical cures for a disease Nicolas doesn’t believe any of them have. The glacial build up never pays off, with the reveal being obvious, but it’s the questions that remain that make Evolution special.
The makeup and digital effects enhance the mystery, revealing clues as to the women’s origins, infusing a sense of nautical mythology into the film that when considered along with the other evidence construes a shocking plausibility. The cyclical nature of life and death are constantly at odds, with both Nicolas and a sympathetic nurse grappling with natural changes that neither of them can control, and it is this conflict that injects an unusual sense of hope into the final act. It’s impossible to get specific with a summation, as Evolution demands that the viewer come to their own conclusions, and that is a task that is impossible without spoiling the essence of this story.
Available now for digital rental, Evolution is a movie that is not for everyone. Another stunning entry into the New French Extremity, proving once again that female directors are in absolute control of the surreal horror scene, Evolution is a one of kind exercise in metaphysical terror. An anti-body horror genre entry that obliterates convention and carefully examines the very essence of humanity, Evolution is one of the most unique films of the year.
Highly. Highly Recommend.