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Evolution is Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s first film in 11 years, following her debut Innocence. Both films share many of the same stylistic and thematic beats: emphasis on atmosphere above plot, static long takes of the natural world, child protagonists and a constant uncertainty as to what is truly transpiring in terms of story. While Innocence revolved round the comings and goings of a mysterious boarding school exclusively for young girls, Evolution is set entirely on a coastal community seemingly untouched by modernity. Instead of young girls, the population is solely young boys and their adult female carers (who are often dressed in nurse uniforms). The film begins with the protagonist Nicholas (Max Brebant) stumbling upon the body of a dead child on the ocean floor. Although his discovery is discredited by the carers, it causes these children to begin to question the motives of their protectors.
Evolution, once again, highlights Hadzihalilovic’s knack for moving between vastly different genres seamlessly. While her previous feature could be best described as David Lynch meets Angela Carter, Evolution features Cronenberg-ian body-horror scenes that would not feel out of place in The Witch, as well as Terrence Malick-like picturesque – all without suffering it terms of tone and atmosphere. Although she is drawing upon many different influences, the result feels unique.
The director, helped by cinematographer Manu Dacosse (The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears), also manages to craft moments of beauty from seemingly everyday objects. This is perhaps most evident during an operation scene, in which the lights illuminating the operating table resemble diamonds or stars.
However, like Innocence, the film ultimately suffers from playing its cards too close to its chest in terms of plot. It withholds so much information, without ever providing anything substantial to the viewer in order to stay engaged (aside from an arresting visual once in a while). It also suffers from featuring many unnecessary and overlong scenes which fail to further the narrative in any meaningful way. At eighty minutes, Evolution feels like its two hours long as a result of these diversions which cause the film to halt to an absolute standstill.
Verdict: Undoubtedly beautiful but lacking in the story department, Evolution is another film by its director which displays great promise but is ultimately too concerned with being strange just for the sake of it. I can only imagine fans of the weirder films of David Lynch or Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin taking much away from Hadzihalilovic’s latest.
Evolution is out in selected cinemas from Friday May 6th. Check out the trailer below.
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