Lucile Hadzihalilovic, known for her stunning film Innocence, returns behind the camera in over 11 years with Evolution, a trippy body horror story that explores life and death in totally bizarre fashion. It’s a quiet, subdued story filled with atmosphere and breathtaking imagery that is as gorgeous as it is haunting. But while it’s aesthetically pleasing, the story lacks emotion and moves much too slow for its own good. In it, the only residents of young Nicholas’s seaside town are women and boys. When he sees a dead body in the ocean one day, he begins to question his existence and surroundings. Why must he, and all the other boys, be hospitalized?
My biggest problem with Evolution is that although it takes place in this very intriguing world—it’s all set in a tiny seaside town made up of nothing but women and boys—none of it is really explained or even explored in an interesting way. Instead we see this little boy, who becomes suspicious of his strange surroundings (duh), meander through the narrative just as confused as the audience is. The boy literally just walks around the film trying to figure out what the fuck is going on before he’s eventually locked up and experimented on, leaving him to further wonder… what the fuck is going on—his experience in the film is a lot like the audiences’. Between this, eating dirt, and seeing some seriously weird shit, Evolution is absolutely one of the strangest movies of the year. But unfortunately in this movie’s case, that is not a good thing.
It’s also really quiet (I hardly noticed the film’s score) and the characters barely say a word—adding to that, all of the women in the movie slither around with no emotion, and while that’s mostly by design, it totally sucked the life out of the narrative. I’ve said this before but it certainly applies to this movie—it doesn’t matter what story you’re trying to tell, however powerful it may be, but if the film itself isn’t engaging then none of those deep layers and themes have any real weight to them. And that’s exactly the problem that Evolution runs into—it ultimately doesn’t matter how interesting of a world you create is if we don’t have a meaningful character to carry us through it.
Hadzihalilovic is no doubt exploring some interesting ideas and she’s often brilliant behind the camera (some of the shots in this movie are downright stunning), but the film is just so lifeless and boring that it’s hard to be invested in it. It’s unfortunate, too, because the film does have some cool moments and it certainly thinks outside the box—it’s safe to say that there’s no other movie quite like Evolution, so there is that. It’s not even like this is a bad movie or anything, it just feels like it drags its feet for too long before doing anything interesting. And while its ambiguous nature does create an intriguing atmosphere, it ultimately has no lasting impact on the story because it lacks a good protagonist and emotional depth.