“Évolution” by Lucile Hadžihalilović

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been graced with a lot of free time, and it’s allowed me to rekindle my relationship with cinema. Especially my favorite films in fantasy, horror, and the mysterious depths of science fiction.

Is that a nice way of saying my day job has been annihilated, and I binge watch films for comfort?

Yes.

But the point is that I love speculative film, and I own a dangerous number of DVDs for someone who is currently unemployed.

If I had to choose one film that has helped me through this pandemic, it’s the 2015 feature film Évolution by Lucile Hadžihalilović. Especially as an artist, because the atmosphere of this film is a masterpiece. And right now, I need aspirational art almost as much as I need randos at Target to put on a face mask and actually keep it there.

Évolution is the kind of film that engulfs and transports its viewer away from pandemic-reality and into a unique mystery. And it does so gorgeously. In fact, the moody cinematography blends so well with the story that I forgot I was reading subtitles after the first few minutes.

Unless you understand French, you’ll need the subtitles, but they’re not going to give you many concrete answers as to “what’s happening.”

The best way to experience this film is as a stranger, but the trailer faithfully reflects the plot without revealing any spoilers. This is the story of a small island, scantily populated with young boys and adult women. The possibly-human-women perform medical experiments on the probably-human-boys, and it gets complicated. It’s like someone spilled a bit of Doctor Moreau onto your Cronenberg rug, and those stains never come out.

IMDb tags Évolution with phrases like “pregnant boy” and “childbirth.” But like I said—it’s a lot more complicated than that. The only explicit plot reveal I want to clarify is that there is absolutely zero depiction of sexual abuse in this story, no matter what IMDb implies.

Évolution is a film I have watched three times now. Perhaps coincidentally, I have three theories about what the film precisely depicts. And the atmosphere is so beguiling, I know I will watch it a fourth time.

Because it is the atmosphere of Évolution that binds everything else together and makes you forget you’re lazing on a couch worried about your future watching a movie. It takes you somewhere else. Somewhere dark and dangerous but clean and soft. To the ruckus of low white buildings, crowded together like the sea crashed an outpost against the shore. The austere minimalism of life above water, static and oppressive, contrasting with the undulating vibrance of reef life. A lullaby of mossy greys and slate blues punctured with unexpected blots of red. The aesthetic of this film is so fully formed that this mood permeates every frame. It’s serene yet violent, and no final frame of a film has left me feeling so creatively refreshed and energized as Évolution.

If you’re feeling world-weary, or just want to shake off some writer’s block, I recommend this film, because it is so much more than a mood board. This movie wants to be a horror, fantasy, and sci-fi mystery all at once—and it succeeds. The horror is realistic, depicting trauma and abuse with the freeze response and a whole lot of needles. The fantasy works as a metaphysical coming-of-age, exploring adolescence as a transitional unknown through which we must all pass—a frightening time Hadžihalilović notes as when “people look at you in a different way.”

In fact, the most horrifying moment of the film for me is when one woman simply looks at a child. The moment occurs about 30 minutes in, and rang so true to life with my own experience as a preteen that I got chills. It’s the gaze of an adult who looks at you like an opportunity, knowing something about your body that you are yet to learn.

Is the film speculative too? Absolutely. Like Lovecraft without the racism. If you enjoy the atmosphere of “Dagon“, you will appreciate Évolution. If you watched the trailer for A Cure for Wellness with high hopes, then saw the film and thought, “Well, shit,” then I encourage you to give Évolution a chance.

Don’t multi-task. Don’t give it less attention than a conversation requires. Watch this film with the wide-eyed engagement of its protagonist, and you will be rewarded with a metaphysical mystery. You might even forget, for 82 blessed minutes, what’s trending on Twitter.

2 thoughts

  1. “Metaphysical coming-of-age”, you say??? Don’t mind if I do. I’m a bit sensitive to body horror so I’m proceeding with caution but that setting sounds too intriguing. The fact I can practise my French is a bonus. 😉

    1. Hadžihalilović’s first feature film, Innocence (2004), sounds right up your alley. It’s in French, has no body horror, and presents a dark fairy tale about growing up. The only downside is that I can’t seem to find it streaming anywhere.

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