Running time: 81 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist and Reviewer
Having received a plethora of attention and praise for her haunting but visually stunning debut feature Innocence (2004), Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s second offering arrived at selected cinemas and festivals around late 2015 and early 2016. Much of the publicity material described the work as a return to body horror cinema and focused on Lucile’s marriage to director Gaspar Noe, perhaps as platforms to reach out to a wider audience and attention. Although other writers have drawn connections between her work and the likes of Lynch and Cronenberg, I witnessed no such comparison during a first viewing of Evolution. Hadzihalilovic has a style that is most certainly her own. Perhaps the difficulty in marketing such a film is that it isn’t really horror, drama, sci-fi or thriller. The only way to describe the emotions and feelings that are aroused during her work is to find a copy of Evolution or Innocence and experience it first hand.
The subject matter does link with some of the ideas associated with her first feature though. Specifically the innocence and resilience of children and the trust that they place on the adults that should be there to care for and nurture them. Children continue to exist and focus on the visual wonders of life while the ugly and sinister aspects fester in the background.
Viewing the opening sequence is more like revisiting a National Geographic or Jacques Cousteau programme of the seventies with Nicholas (Max Brebant) exploring the rich depths of the sea in all its colourful glory. However this heavenly bliss is interrupted when the young boy discovers the dead body of similarly aged child with a distinctive starfish attached to his naval. He raises the alarm with his mother/ carer La Mere (Julie-Marie Parmentier) who cannot find the cadaver when they reach the area.
The island that they inhabit consists of young boys and androgynous women. There are no men or young girls, posing the question, ‘where do the babies come from?’ A shady medical facility close to the island’s village would seem to offer a few clues to this. Having endured his daily intake of dark, gloppy porridge and a iodine looking medicine, Nicholas questions the intentions of his carer and the validity of trips to the medical facility to be cured. His sketches of cars and planes seem to suggest that he has memories of a different land that he may have once have lived in. A sympathetic and curious nurse called Stella (Roxane Duran) may or may not offer him some form of salvation from his fate.Evolution is undoubtedly the most visually stunning work that I have witnessed this year. Having also raved about the visuals in this year’s High-Rise and the recently released, fashion horror Neon Demon, this is high praise indeed. Every frame, camera angle and colour is almost perfect in its presentation. It almost coaxes you in with its beauty like a moth to a burning bulb. Even the more sinister images in the final third are so exquisitely unveiled that they unsettle but amaze in equal measures.
There are chilling moments and images that will stain your mind without the need of Conjuring 2 styled sound effects or a sudden clash of shock music. Maybe the fear and tension that is built is due to the vulnerability of the children or the fear of a role reversal of the sexes and the change in our bodies leading to this? The fact is that the horror cannot be categorized as one clear thing. I’m hoping that we do not have to endure another 15 year wait for Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s next movie because this is an exceptional piece of art. In a recent interview Hadzihalilovic admitted that she was given a short time period to complete the shoot. There is no evidence to suggest that any single frame was rushed.
The performances from the young cast are stellar as are the chilling roles of the adults with their marbleized skin and blank expressions. Parmentier in particular as the head of the village seems to personify the epitome of evil without a flicker of emotion.
Do yourselves a favour and attempt to see this film in any cinema within a reasonable geographic radius for the full visual effect. If not grab a copy of the DVD and enjoy a truly original fantasy horror.