Evolution is *visually* stunning. A cinematic bite of nautical opulence that dances under the midnight glow of inquisitive genre exploration. Writer/Director Lucile Hadzihalilovic boasts a healthy dose of creative curiosity by pushing artistic boundaries, never conforming to narrative structures that have blueprinted so many films before. There’s zero hand-holding here, as a much larger story is ignored to pose a smaller, more contained sci-fi conundrum. This might drive some audiences mad, but others will bask in the renegade nature of a film unbeholden to rigid architecture – for better or worse.
Hadzihalilovic takes us to a small coastal town where we meet a boy named Nicholas (Max Brebant) and his undefined community. He lives with his mother, and there are seemingly no men to be found. All the boys his age are whisked away to hospital rooms, where they’re given an injection and monitored. At night, all the mothers congregate without their kin.
It’s a cycle that plays on and on, and Nicholas can contain his curiosity no longer. He doesn’t believe that any of the boys are sick, and is convinced that all the females are colluding together for some crazy plot. Not like murky porridge servings and nightly ink-like medication drinks were sane to begin with, but that’s nothing compared to the secrets Nicholas is about to discover.
The thing is, Hadzihalilovic and co-writer Alante Kavaite aren’t invested in giving answers. Nicholas guides us through an increasingly weird string of discoveries, yet once the credits roll, we’re still asking the same questions. Thematic notes are repeated throughout to establish some sort of constant tone – well, really just starfish fetishism – but “how” and “why” questions are rarely addressed with straight-forward, digestible intent. Shocks are merely base-value when Nicholas stumbles upon a writhing pile of naked women under the moonlight, or upon his discovery of a dead body tucked under coral reefs, never to be expounded upon. This method is a brash, ambitious one, rooted soulfully in artistic expression – there just needs to be something more.
Cinematographer Manuel Dacosse aligns with Hadzihalilovic for aquatic snapshots that evoke such unprecedented beauty. The film’s most memorable moments are typically silent, as cameras glide through underwater reefs that glisten in refracted light cutting through bubbles and currents. Style is the film’s most seductive weapon, which might be enough to hypnotize certain connoisseurs of physical pleasures – because no favors are done through script. All the woman have a very uniformed look, as colors stand out against their fleshy dressed and pale complexion. This is meant to highlight importance and reaffirm our interest in starfish shapes, yet a scrapbook of scenic swimming views won’t satiate all cinematic tastes.
As for performances, you’d never tell that this is young Max Brebant’s first and only role. His motivations are that of a child, pushed forward by a hunger for challenging the unknown and yearning for understanding. Sure, there’s a level of trust at first as his mother shovels black goo down his throat every night, but then questions begin to take over his mind.
Think of all the children who ask “why” after anything – the only difference is that Nicholas has a reason to be skeptical. He’s not asking “why is the sky blue,” he’s asking “why did you inject a foreign substance into my stomach?” That’s a pretty damn good question if I do say so myself, even if it goes largely unanswered by Hadzihalilovic’s ominous and vague storytelling.
Ultimately, Evolution feels like a glamorous sizzle reel that doesn’t invest enough effort into an otherwise intriguing cultist drama. The somber beauty of long underwater strolls distracts from questions that are never answered, until the credits roll and we’re left still thirsty for information. Again, Evolution is a smaller snippet of a much grander story – and we never benefit from being denied that larger-world view. It’s a small-scale thriller with bigger ambitions, even if they never truly come to fruition.
Evolution is undeniably beautiful, but it's a small-scale story which ignores a larger world that needs far more exploration.