Evolution – Film Review (2016) – Film Dispenser

Film December 2, 2016 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

My thoughts on Evolution, the new film from writer/director Lucile Hadzihalilovic (Innocence), risk sounding pretentious. However, a viewer’s enjoyment of this release (or lack of it) depends on what type of film fan you are. The majority of moviegoers emphasize story, seeking a compelling A to Z narrative. Events and character motivations are adequately spelled out by the time the movie reaches its close. These viewers are by no means simple-minded or novice cinephiles. They seek the power of a compelling story over visual style and film-making technique.

Other film fans can be held enthralled by beautiful imagery and an array of impressionistic scenes that only form a cohesive whole (if at all) when the viewer applies his or her own cognitive glue. For these fans, the story is not the entire point. They are satisfied living in the moment, experiencing what the characters experience without feeling the need to enforce some type of orderliness on it all. The enjoyment flows from the journey itself, not the destination. The viewer is able to give him or herself over to the filmmaker’s vision and accept the results on the artist’s own terms.

If you fall in this second category and can easily lose  yourself in a strange environment where all of your questions will not be neatly answered, then you will find Evolution to be a breath of cinematic fresh air. The film opens with a young boy swimming in the ocean among its sea life, flora and fauna. When the boy emerges from the water, we learn that he lives in a small seaside village where the population consists entirely of middle school boys and grown women. There are no adult men to be found, and their absence is never entirely explained.

Everyone speaks French, but the specific setting is never identified. No cars, bicycles or other means of conveyance can be found. Days are spent on the rocky shore, and nights are spent inside meager stucco houses. The gray coastline, the pale bodies of the boys, and the austere appearance of the women with their long faces and prominent foreheads turn the surroundings into something almost extraterrestrial. The film is drenched in an alien, otherworldly atmosphere.

The idyllic surroundings obscure something darker that lies just beneath the surface of this small community. Boys disappear with no explanation from the adults. The women administer an inky “medication” to the boys. A sense of dread descends on the film as the proceedings take a decidedly hellish when the youngsters begin to suspect that an enemy lives inside their very own bodies.

The deliberate cinematography of Evolution is a marvel and stands in total contrast to its meandering story. Every shot is composed with meticulous care. We see the stark white background of the village contrasted against the gray coastline.  Young boys wearing t-shirts dot the landscape with primary colors. It’s as if the audience has stepped through a canvas hanging in The Louvre to emerge in the strange world on the other side. Evolution offers dozens of these stunning visual moments.

Evolution has been categorized as a horror film, but that label is insufficient on many levels. It shares little common ground with the lo-fi body horror of David Cronenberg’s films although there is one moment that is clearly an homage to his 1979 film The Brood.  Evolution is often filled with disquieting images and offers some cringe-worthy moments, but this is not a standard horror film intent on throwing cheap jump-scares at its audience. With its arresting imagery and parasite-driven story, it more closely resembles Upstream Color, Shane Carruth’s brilliant mindbender from 2013.

Much like The Witch, Robert Eggers’ atmospheric film from earlier this year, traditional horror film fans will likely bring the wrong set of expectations to Evolution, and the audience who would enjoy it may be driven away by the horror label. So, ignore the film festival tendency to categorize every release into a genre. Instead, if you meet Evolution on its own terms, your patience will be rewarded.


Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

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