Stunning opening shots of sumptuous wildlife beneath the crystal clear sea immediately draws us into the eerie and beautiful world of Evolution (2015). Yet there is menace hidden within this beauty, something Nicolas (Max Brebant) suddenly realises when he finds the body of a dead boy under the water.
His mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) insists he imagined it. But is she lying? And where does she and the other women disappear to at night? And for that matter, why are the only occupants of their peaceful coastal village women with their younger sons? Writer and director Lucile Hadzihalilovic fills Evolution with evocative questions from the off, building up the mystery in a deliciously chilling way with an intricate story that explores the ideas of gender and nature, and what exactly that all means.
Using sparse dialogue and brief shots that suggest but never quite show increasingly horrifying moments, Hadzihalilovic teases us with the real answers behind the many secrets of the small seaside village, but never fully reveals them. However this is the beauty of Evolution and something that not only keeps it gripping, but that also means it is preying on your mind for days later. Certainly some images in this (some of which really are truly disturbing) will be burned into your thoughts for a long, long time.
As such, Hadzihalilovic’s film has an almost hypnotic quality to it at times, the quiet moments of her and Alanté Kavaïté’s script drawing you in, making the later more disturbing scenes all the more shocking to witness. This hypnotic draw is also increased through several of the central female performances, in particular the ethereal Roxane Duran as a nurse who becomes friends with Nicolas, and Julie-Marie Parmentier as Nicolas’ mother, her face disturbingly void of emotion yet also hinting at several of her true, less than innocent thoughts. It is a portrayal as terrifying as any killer in any horror film.
Yet Hadzihalilovic’s film is made all the more impactful through the performances from the young boys, many of whom are non-professionals in their first ever roles. It is Max Brebant as Nicolas who truly impresses though, his naturalistic performance and reactions keeping the story realistic throughout, especially when surprising elements of sci-fi shine through later in the narrative. His beautifully curious expression keeps us gripped and means that we are with him every step of the way, even as we slowly build to a dreadful twist that we would rather not witness.
More chilling than any gory or straight-up horror film you’re likely to see, Evolution is a piece that will haunt you for days. Beautiful cinematography, quiet menace, a terrifying story and much more, all work together to submerge you in Hadzihalilovic’s fascinating and wonderfully atmospheric film. With her previous feature film having been released over 10 years ago (Innocence, 2004), it is clear that the long wait was certainly worth it.