“The only residents of young Nicholas’ sea-side town are women and boys. When he sees a corpse in the ocean one day, he begins to question his existence and surroundings. Why must he, and all the other boys, be hospitalized?” — IMDb
Evolution is director Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s long-awaited follow-up to her 2004 debut, Innocence, which also deals heavily with adolescence and a sort of coming-of-age theme. It comes as no surprise that Gaspar Noé, a brilliant filmmaker in his own right, is her partner, nor that she is heavily inspired and influenced by H.P. Lovecraft (his love for all things that dwell deep in the ocean made its way into this film, for sure).
It follows Nicolas (Max Brebant) as he navigates through life in a desolate but starkly beautiful seaside town. There are no men in this town… only women and other boys Nicolas’s age. His mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) is dismissive and secretive when he tells her about the boy’s body that he found underwater, and he continues trying to question what’s going on around him despite unusual nighttime rituals and frequent trips to the hospital for more unnecessary medical procedures…
Watching this movie is a bit like navigating through a dream. Everything is moody and surreal, the colors manage to be both muted and rich, and the plot is just fantastic enough that you can almost get lost in it despite the eeriness that surrounds it. The underwater shots are particularly mesmerizing, and overall the cinematography — by Manuel Dacosse — is brilliantly done.
There’s a great contrast between the vastness and beauty of the ocean and beach alongside the sterile, bare town just as there’s a contrast between the hazy, dreamlike quality of scenes like the one where Nicolas floats beneath the surface of la mer and the unsettling confusion of some of the operating room experiences.
It manages to strike a satisfying balance of aesthetic and deep pondering, touching on the topics of gender stereotypes in our culture, the growing pains of entering puberty, peer pressure, and the budding skepticism of youth.
Much of the dread throughout comes from that familiar fear that we all have: being completely helpless. The children in the town are at a disadvantage simply because of their age. That feeling of knowing better and trying to get our message across only to be patted on the head and ignored is one that we’ve all felt at one time or another in our childhood or even early adulthood — the stakes are just higher than usual in this film. You feel a sort of creeping suffocation as the movie plays on, and the more you learn, the more questions are poised, waiting to be answered.
The ending in particular is wonderfully shot — the almost dizzying perspective, the overhead shots of him curled in the boat, the incredible use of available, the inexplicably ominous twinkling buildings on the nearby shore. Again, we are left with an equal ration of explanations and inquiries, but so much to ponder when the credits roll.
Rating: 6.5/10 | Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic | Writer: Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Alante Kavaite | Music: Jesús Díaz, Zacarías M. de la Riva | Cinematography: Manuel Dacosse | Starring: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier