Starring: Max Brebant, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Roxane Duran
Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Ten-year-old Nicolas (Brebant) lives in a simple remote sea-front settlement where all the inhabitants are either women or young boys. Due to an unexplained illness, he is given daily medicine by his mother (Parimentier), who treats him with cold indifference yet unyielding protectiveness. At some point during their lives, the boys are all taken to an uninviting hospital facility on the edge of town, some of whom never return. When Nicolas finds a dead boy at the bottom of the sea while out diving, he questions his mother who insists he has imagined the whole thing. He starts to suspect she is not telling him the entire truth and sneaks out at night to try and find answers.
French horror is known for its reticence and desolation; a Frenchman’s biggest fear seemingly being welcomed at home by a protracted unnerving stare. Nevertheless, the French are really rather good at reticence and desolation, and Evolution is no exception. Each lifeless glare from the town’s women lingers at least five seconds longer than would make for a generally acceptable edit, yet it builds up a truly unsettling sensation of intimidation. The boys are not excused from this intoxicating overextension either; reminiscent of Goodnight Mommy, their wavering acting prowess adds to the feeling of strangeness. Parimentier looks almost nothing like herself; her lack of make-up, yanked back hair and endless glower completely transform her into an ugly empathy deficient void, and she is genuinely discomforting.
The dialogue is used sparingly, as if Hadzihalilovic feels that too many words would detract from the isolation of the scenery and uncertainty of the boy’s situation. It certainly didn’t make millionaires of any subtitle translators; at its peak, a sentence every five minutes is as Tarantino gangster as it gets.
Although feeling a little self-absorbed at times, the cinematography is stunning. All inhabitants of the town are dressed in greys, the buildings are dirty white, the rooms almost empty but for distressed functional furniture. In contrast, the underwater scenes could be straight from the BBC Nature archives and teem with bright hues and bustling vigorous life, the difference between the two environments intentionally striking and disorienting.
Evolution, like most European horrors, requires patience. If you expect a bloodbath in the first ten minutes, it’s likely it’s not for you. For those who stick with it and permit the uncertainty and bleakness to gradually seep into the innermost depths of the psyche, the rewards will be high. It’s French, it’s a horror, it’s reticent and desolate. It is also rather good.
7 / 10