On an isolated island a small community made up entirely of young women and prepubescent boys lives by the ocean. Life on the island is peaceful but there is something otherworldly afoot. With a society consisting of only one sex past puberty the question arises as to where babies come from. Based on the title I had my own guess as to where the film was headed but I was completely, horrendously wrong.
Evolution starts slow, and does not accelerate much throughout, showing Nicholas (Max Brebant) swimming around during the day and taking his medicine from his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier), or at least the woman he lives with, at night. After finding something unsettling in the ocean Nicholas’ discovery is brushed off and along with the other boys his age Nicholas is sent to stay in hospital for a few days. What happens to him there and the things he discovers are not for the faint hearted or the weak of stomach.
Before the film is done events take a turn for the Cronenbergian and I genuinely muttered “good God” under my breath as I was seeing something that made me feel unpleasant inside. I can’t begin to describe to you what I saw but let me just say that it is nice to see some people not relying on CGI and using physical props instead. For anyone who saw the comedy Men & Chicken the big reveal here isn’t a million miles away from how that Danish title ended.
Body horror aside what distinguishes Evolution from the pack is its stripped back aesthetic and glacial pace. Everything about the film is very deliberate and the level of control clearly exerted by writer-director Lucile Hadžihalilovi? is admirable. The end product is clearly precisely what she wanted to make and my hat goes off to her. That said I struggle to say that I enjoyed Evolution though from listening to other critics claim it to be their favourite film of the festival so far I realise I am in the minority. I found the pace and the lack of dialogue testing and the big reveal was disturbing and yet too ambiguous to be satisfying. Evolution is clearly closer to art than in is entertainment and as such it will not please everyone. I would be lying if I said I liked the film but almost feel like lying about it to make myself seem more intelligent.
If you like slow and artful coming of age body horrors then Evolution is the film for you. If you have simpler needs and just want coherency and to not feel mildly nauseous then maybe give this a miss.