‘Evolution’ – A Silent Terror of Adolescence
Evolution basks in its slow-burn and haunting silence. But make no mistake, there’s a considerable amount of provoking commentary on its mind. What comes from the mind of writer-director Lucile Hadzihalilovic is creepy, cerebral and artful wrapped into a single package.
Its sinister canvas ironically comes out of a hypnotic opening that belongs in an art gallery. 10-year-old Nicolas (Max Brebant) is a sickly boy, residing in an isolated seaside town with his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier). One day, he’s out swimming in the shallow water. After swimming below the surface, he claims he’s seen a dead boy with a starfish on his stomach. His mother and the resident nurses are skeptical of such a happening. Nicolas is then told by the women that water plays tricks on the mind. Yet, the experience has Nicolas posing questions to answers he’s not prepared for.
The setup of the seaside town is rather abnormal. The population consists of young boys, who are all sick, and their nurse mothers. The main question at hand is why just mothers and sickly boys? Why do the boys receive frequent injections? And what is up with that nasty gruel they’re feeding them? It’s a wonder why these boys didn’t question the peculiarity of their situation sooner. Perhaps there’s an authoritative understanding for the cold parental figures. Like much of Evolution, there are many questions left unanswered.
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Hadzihalilovic is here to challenge her audience relentlessly. Evolution doesn’t find it necessary to provide an abundance of dialogue or characterization. We as the audience set our imagination into overdrive, filling in the gaps left intentionally blank by a minimal screenplay. The end result is a slow burn that plays to its impeccable imagery rather than showing laying everything out in the open. It’s a trademark of Hadzihalilovic, who happened to do the same with her 2004 film, Innocence.
Evolution may evoke a restriction on its storytelling potential. However, the cinematography by Manuel Dacosse leaves us in 81 minutes of a dream-like state. We like Nicolas can sense something terribly wrong on the island and it’s genuinely terrifying. Thankfully, that sort of terror doesn’t take shape in the form of jump scares or cheap tactics. In fact, with the exception of a few operations on children that will make some squirm, mainstream frights are absent. There’s more dread in this film’s painting of the unknown and ambiguous. In doing so, Evolution plays like many other slow-burn psychological horrors such as Under the Skin and Goodnight Mommy.
While we don’t have an opportunity to know our characters, Brebant and Parmentier are both exceptional. Shockingly enough, this is young Brebant’s first film. He conveys his fear and curiosity with such authenticity for a child actor. Whether he’s wandering the creepy corridors of the hospital or coming face-to-face with the unknown on the beach, it feels all too real.
Many of the themes presented in Evolution are best left undisclosed. But it does ponder the potentially uneasy bond between mothers and sons during a transforming period in a young boy’s life. Its eerily poetic nature will linger in the mind for some time.