Cinematic Releases: Evolution (2016) - Reviewed

It has been over ten years since we last saw Lucile Hadzihalilovic in the director’s chair.  To give a little refresher on who she is, she’s the wife and frequent collaborator of Gaspar Noe who also served as the editor of his films Carne and I Stand Alone.  Though heavily involved in film work and sharing her husband’s penchant for deeply unsettling provocation including but not limited to pornography (see her short film Good Boys Use Condoms).  In 2004 she unleashed her coming of age dreamscape Innocence with heavy overtones of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock as an obvious influence.
I found Innocence, which was adapted from the novel Mine-Haha, or On the Bodily Education of Young Girls by Frank Wedekind, an engrossingly atmospheric exercise in unfocused dread and much like Weir’s timeless classic a meditation on female adolescence and maturation.  And that was it for Hadzihalilovic aside from co-writing her husband’s film Enter the Void for a while until now.  Nearly a decade later, the French provocateur is back with her first wholly original effort as both writer and director with the loose male companion piece to her debut, Evolution, and what a stunningly haunting, evocative, disturbing, transgressive and otherworldly work of art it is!

Somewhere between the fleeting dreaminess of Terrence Malick and Jean Painleve’s marine biological documentaries with just a loose hint of David Lynch crossed with Luis Bunuel, Evolution is a masterfully uncomfortable watch that manages to be both indescribably beautiful and implacably deeply horrific.  Loosely based on Hadzihalilovic’s own experiences in the patient’s chair at the doctor’s office, the film concerns a surreal tale involving an isolated volcanic island where androgynous women tend to young boys we’re led to believe are their offspring by feeding them an unearthly looking pasta in between administering some kind of injection. 

I say ‘we’re led to believe’ because from beginning to end, we’re genuinely not sure how much of what we’re seeing is real or imaginary.  Much like Lars Von Trier’s The Element of Crime, Evolution is drenched in deep waters which only serve to magnify the hazy and sleepy perspective.  In a nightmarish gender inverse of sorts, Evolution regards the human characters as aquatic mammals gradually moving away from civilization and back into the oceans.

Stunningly photographed by Amer cinematographer Manuel Dacosse with a truly haunting ambient score by Zacarias M. de la Riva, Evolution is a near wordless tightrope walk between beauty and horror that is less of a conventional narrative than an audiovisual experience.  Where you could trace the influences on her first film Innocence, Evolution comparatively is a go-for-broke science-fiction horror story loaded with body horrors juxtaposed with the glittering ocean deep borne entirely from the imagination of it’s writer-director.  

Difficult, uncompromising, creepy and gorgeous, Evolution comes both with my highest recommendation of any film this year as well as a word of warning that it isn’t for all tastes.  Clearly another example of the New French Extremity led by the likes of her husband Gaspar Noe and Catherine Breillat, it is a film that intentionally won’t go down easily, won’t provide all the answers and won’t be quickly forgotten.  Like any great mystery horror film, Evolution burrows itself deep into the viewer’s psyche with a faint urge to return to the ocean deep for more left within all who see it firsthand. 

Despite only having made two features, Lucile Hadzihalilovic has announced herself as a formidable master filmmaker whose Evolution is far and away years ahead of her contemporaries and a vast majority of the so-called provocative and dense science fiction films masquerading as high art.  Evolution is not for the faint hearted or squeamish but for the adventurous cinephile eager to test the waters of what you can imagine in a film, it is utterly essential viewing.


- Andrew Kotwicki