Young Nicolas (Max Brebant) lives on an island that looks uncannily similar to the locations used in ISLAND OF DEATH or WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? - all rustic, decaying white buildings, sunny backdrops and eerily silent streets (in actual fact, EVOLUTION was shot in Lanzarote!).
Initially, at least, the lad doesn't question the fact that this island is his entire world. Nor does he seem perturbed by the fact that all the children on the island are also boys ... or that the only adults are all female.
But then, one morning whilst swimming out on the coastline, Nicolas spies what he believes is a dead boy floating in the sea. He hurries back to his barren, grey home to tell his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier): she rubbishes this suggestion, and goes to great lengths the following day to drag Nicolas and his friends to the black-sanded beach and prove there's no body to be found.
However, Nicolas is still not convinced. He begins to question his surroundings and the integrity of his mother for the first time. His sketches increasingly harken to things that do not exist in his world: a football, a rocking horse etc. The following morning, he returns to the beach with his pals to search for clues. After getting into a fight with fellow boy Frank (Nissim Renard) and torturing a starfish, he's sent to the island's sinister hospital.
There, he's subjected to injections and strange operations before being placed in a fun-free ward during the night with other comatose kids. When they each awake as the sun rises, the lads remark to each other that they've all had the same stomach operation. But just what that operation was precisely, none of them know.
As Nicolas forms a friendship with kindly nurse Stella (Roxane Duran), he starts to dig deeper into the mystery around him. He spies on the island's females as they watch instructional videos on how to perform specialist operations, watches from afar as they writhe in the sand under the guise of moonlight...
But, even if Nicolas gets to the bottom of these strange goings-on, will that be enough to save him from his fate on the island?
I've waited a long time for Lucile Hadzihalilovic to follow up her wonderful 2004 feature debut INNOCENCE. That film was as visually breath-taking as it was curiously beguiling, a coming-of-age drama that works just as well as a piece of surrealism, an insidious thriller or a poem brought to lyrical life on film.
EVOLUTION reverses the gimmick of INNOCENCE, in that the child cast here are all male. It touches upon similar concepts - identity, trust, adolescence, need, desire, morality - but does so while embracing more obvious genre trappings. The cold, clinical nature of the hospital scenes and the implication of body horror conspiracies echo vintage Cronenberg; the incremental sense of paranoia and claustrophobia calls to mind both Cold War era sci-fi classics like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and more traditional horrors such as THE THING.
Of course, this being a Hadzihalilovic film - Mrs Gaspar Noe to you and me - it's also aesthetically gorgeous. Each and every scene has been meticulously prepared in terms of colour, lighting and framing. The film moves rather slowly as a result, allowing each scene ample opportunity to impress.
Quite what it all means is, I suppose, open to interpretation: the significance of the starfish, for example, the inversion of life-giving that's implied as the screenplay progresses and the message that no paternal bond is to be trusted. The beauty of it all is that the film works on two levels - you can muse over its themes, or ignore them and simply take in an extraordinarily well-photographed sci-fi thriller.
Did it make as much of an impact upon me as INNOCENCE did? No, it didn't. The themes didn't resonate as far, and I still don't think the writer-director has mustered writing characters warm enough to really care for. It's also apparent a lot sooner as to what's going on, so loses out on points of intrigue when measured against its predecessor.
But that doesn't make it a bad film.
Metrodome's region 2-encoded DVD presents us with the uncut film in its original 2.35:1 ratio. The transfer is 16x9 enhanced and looks very good. Strong colours, robust blacks, sharp definition and fine detail prevail throughout.
French audio comes in options of 2.0 or 5.1 mixes. Both are solid propositions: the latter has the edge during more bombastic moments, obviously, due to astute channel separation and clean playback. English subtitles are burned-in but unobtrusive and well-written at all times.
A static main menu page leads into a similarly motionless scene selection menu which allows access to the film by way of 12 chapters.
It's a real shame to report that a film of such interest comes to UK DVD with no feature-related bonus features whatsoever.
All we get are three unrelated trailers, which the disc is defaulted to open up with: SPRING, ONE & TWO and PARTISAN.
EVOLUTION is original in look and delivery, beguiling in execution and well worth a look. It's no leap forward from INNOCENCE, but does continue to showcase Lucile Hadzihalilovic as a talent to watch.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Metrodome|
|see main review|