Saturday, July 30, 2016


The surface of the sea from below. The sun is out and the water has a golden tint. We linger on it but don't mind as it's so restful. Then we follow Nicholas in red togs, swimming under water. He passes coral and marine vegetation of great beauty before happening on the corpse of a young boy like himself who has been decomposing on the rocks for what looks like months. In horror, Nicholas swims back to shore to tell his mother what he has seen. His mother has been cooking up a kind of blue mud with worms that might be noodles at the stove. She diverts Nicholas' claim of seeing the body and suggests he has imagined it.

The island where they live is peopled entirely by adult women and boys around ten years old. The women all have unnervingly smooth features with Scandinavian-style invisible eyebrows. We soon learn two other things about life on the island: the boys are all taking medication and there is a hospital with a single doctor and a platoon of nurses. Nicholas, like all the other boys, is subjected to medical treatment and tests. His curiosity also drives him to follow the women in their nightly rituals, forming a slow parade by lantern light out to the seashore. The dead boy from the opening scene is brought in from the waves. The boys get nosebleeds often. Some of them vanish never to return. There is a kind of ritualistic solemnity to the medical procedures. The lights of the operating table reflect in Nicholas' eyes like star fish.  This is the kind of life that needs not Twisties to compare itself to the straightness of the greater world.

Lucile Hadzihalilovic's second feature as director has both the same tightly reined weirdness and dogged pursuit of its initial promise as her first. Blending an extraordinary eye for cinema with an uncompromising commitment to tell her strange stories. Just as 2004's Innocence never surrendered to the dark fairy tale a more conventional treatment would have demanded, Evolution does not fall into a body horror plot. There is none of the young Cronenberg's fetishism here. It's more reminiscent of Kubrick with its even pacing and the functionality of scenes and tableaux. 

If anyone, though, I was most reminded of Matthew Barney. The sheer force of Barney's vision in the Cremaster films and their joyous completion of ideas that make you wonder if you saw of dreamed them is here, in more muted form. What you think is going to happen happens and keeps happening. The point is not the resolution of conflict but the carriage of certainty and its reporting in detached fashion that does not permit detachment from the viewer. This is a demanding film. Seldom has a running time less than ninety minutes felt so full and compelling. Please don't let another twelve years pass before this woman gets to make another film.

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