Friday, November 25, 2016

Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution

Even though Nicolas has probably never seen Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, he can tell there is something wrong with his island village. It is just too picturesque. The demographics are also wrong. There are no men and no girls—just single mothers and their pale young sons. He will start to suspect something is seriously wrong in Lucile Hadžihalilović’s Evolution (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

It rather disturbs Nicolas when he spies what looks like the corpse of a dead little boy with a bloody starfish on his chest while diving, but his mother dismisses it as a trick of the light. Naturally, the other kids are quick to mock him, but it awakens inklings of suppressed memories and a growing sense of paranoia within the sensitive lad. When he follows his mother one night, he gets an eyeful of some very cult-like behavior. Not long after, he is admitted to hospital, ostensibly to treat the chronic condition he was supposedly born with, but by this time Nicolas doubts everything he is told.

Evolution represents the most demanding, high end of the genre movie spectrum. Superficially, it might sound like it shares a kinship with movies like Village of the Damned, but films like Picnic at Hanging Rock and the work of Jodorowsky are closer cousins. It is all about visuals and atmosphere, rather than thrills and chills. At this point, it might also be helpful to point out Hadžihalilović has collaborated with New French Extremity filmmaker Gaspar Noé. Neither is excessively prolific, but when they do make films, they get somebody’s money’s worth.

There is no question Evolution looks terrific. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosse (whose work includes Alleluia and The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun) definitely got the memo regarding Hadžihalilović’s inspiration from surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico. He just soaks up the black volcanic sand and stark white stucco buildings. The Lanzarote locales are just stunning, but the darkly sinister film is not likely to inspire a sudden crush of tourism.

With narrative and character development already taking a backseat to the unsettling vibe, the ultra-reserved cast are largely overwhelmed by Hadžihalilović’s auteurist filmmaking. Despite being the focal point, Max Brebant’s Nicolas practically evaporates into the scenery, just like the rest of the young supporting players. Julie-Marie Parmentier makes a somewhat stronger impression as the creepily oedipal mother (but just whose mother, we cannot say for sure).

At just over eighty-minutes, Evolution is a relative shorty, but it is such a mood piece, it probably would have been more effective if it were even more concise and compact. It is a dramatic departure from the films typically released under the IFC Midnight banner, but Hadžihalilović’s aesthetic is apparently too tripped out for the general IFC and Sundance Selects imprimaturs. The careful craft that went into the film is impressive, but it will make traditional midnight movie audiences antsy. Respectfully recommended for cineastes with a taste for body horror, Evolution opens today (11/25) in New York, at the IFC Center (with screenings throughout the day).