From acclaimed director Lucile Hadžihalilović, Evolution is a very slow and creepy French film that makes you wonder what would happen if starfish evolved into humanoids and couldn’t reproduce. What would happen exactly? A whole lot of bizarre medical procedures, that’s what. Nothing in Evolution makes 100% sense. Watching it is like watching a mad genius solve the Collatz Conjecture or paint a surrealist image. Your eyes are locked on, watching their creation unfold, but when they’re finished you’re not sure what it is that you’re looking at.
There is a common practice that takes place in certain indie arthouse films involving an incredibly slow narrative that puts all its energy in keeping the story elusive. The kind of film that inserts one line of dialogue every 20 minutes so that most of the film is long shots of characters looking at something. It reminds me of 2013’s Under the Skin. A beautifully shot film with disturbing themes but so slow in its execution that it becomes tediously pointless by the third act if the viewer doesn’t have the right amount of patience.
The title “Evolution” could be referring to many things. The evolution of nature, the evolution of sex, the evolution of reproduction, etc. However, according to the director, Evolution has nothing to do with the actual story it tells but rather with human emotion and eternity. The eternity of life and the quiet foreverness of the ocean. Unfortunately, knowing this somehow makes the film even more confusing.
Creepy little town with creepy people
The film opens with a young boy named Nicolas (Max Brebant) finding a dead body in the ocean. On top of the body is a large red starfish. He immediately runs home to tell his mother, which is about as useful as one of us running to tell our moms that we saw a unicorn. She has no reaction.
The film tells us immediately that something is not quite right about the island where Nicholas lives. For one, his creepy mother is cooking a seaweed-like stew full of worms. Then there’s the “village” that inhabits the island that’s actually just a string of white houses with nothing inside. The population consists of nothing but grown women and their sons, all of whom look to be between the ages 8-10.
Before I go any further I feel that I need to share some details on starfish, because they’re pretty active in the story, in particular their reproductive systems. Starfish can reproduce both sexually and asexually but when they perform asexual reproduction, they do it by fragmentation. A part of their body is detached and grows into a new star. Essentially, this is what’s happening on the island between the women and the boys, but in a deeply twisted way.
The mothers are not mothers at all, but actually sea creatures that fertilize their young inside a separate vessel. The boys are human children kidnapped to be used as hosts for babies. It’s not an uncommon theme in films. (Alien, Rosemary’s Baby, Holidays, The Astronaut’s Wife). However, Evolution truly does it like no other. The fact that its young boys who are the selected carriers is unusual enough but the film treats their “pregnancies” like an illness. There’s no actual body horror shown but you don’t need to see it to feel it, especially near the end when Nicholas wakes up in a water tank with two fetuses attached to his body.
When the babies are large enough to grow on their own, the women perform c-sections on the boys. Killing most of them in the process.
Not for everyone
There are strong themes of sexuality, parenthood, and innocence in Evolution. The involvement of young boys instead of girls is what makes it so unique. It gives the film an aura of taboo. Which, despite the director’s words, I think is much of the point. Childbirth, or the creation of life, can be brutal. Women carry another lifeform in their bodies until the day it rips out of them. Projecting pregnancies, childbirth, and everything related to them onto men gives it a whole other meaning.
I can say right now that most people who watch this movie will not like it. It’s not exactly entertaining and it’s definitely not easy to understand. But it’s a film that movie and horror lovers should at least try to watch. Just don’t try to figure it out.(2.5 / 5)
All photos are property of Potemkine Films.