Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"This is a film of two halves, the first - and best - has the cold creeping dread of icy sea water slowly soaking into your swimming costume." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Evolution is an eerie little exercise in filmmaking, with its is-it-or-isn't it science-fiction setting, the strange black sand of Lanzarote - also employed by Werner Herzog in Even Dwarfs Started Small - and Midwitch Cuckoo style young blonde pre-teen boys and their oddly similar pale-skinned, red-haired mothers. Where are the men? How did the women get here if there are no girls? Don't ask too much yet, you need to save yourself a lot of question marks for later.

Writer/director Lucile Hadžihalilovic - in her first film for a decade - compounds the sense of ominous otherness in her opening scenes. One of the boys, Nicolas (Max Brebant), while out swimming, thinks he glimpses a pale dead child and a blood-red starfish beneath the waves. These waters are blue but far from still, they are agitated, wild and no place for a kid. Both that red - violent against the stark cold colours elsewhere - and the starfish imagery are recurring themes in a film that mixes folklore with childhood psychological fears and is filled with mesmerising moments but becomes increasingly frustrating in narrative and character terms.

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Nicolas' mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) seems largely unfazed by his encounter with death and he, in turn, takes the presentation of what appears to be a bowl of worm porridge and a glass of water tinted black with dark medicine as part of an average day's dinner. But the boy's suspicions have been aroused and after dark, he follows his mother down to the shore...

This is a film of two halves, the first - and best - has the cold creeping dread of icy sea water slowly soaking into your swimming costume. The second takes place in a stark hospital, where the boys are taken because they're "sick". Here, the action leaves much of the insinuation behind in order to lay the body horror on thick. As the boys become broodmares for their 'mothers' - Nicolas forms a tentative relationship with one of the nurses (Roxane Duran), who may offer escape from his pre-pubescent nightmare. This section has a stronger story, but the characters remain flimsy and opaque. It's one thing to accept the mothers strange 'otherness' but surely boys should be boys, not reduced to these pale shadows, rarely speaking to one another even when the possibility arises? We may pity Nicolas on a basic level but we don't know him well enough to care.

Scenes where cinematographer Manuel Dacosse watches the water dance in low light or focuses in on starfish shapes in unusual places, or the choreographed moments where the mother's show their true selves, indicate the vision of a director who is fully in control of the look of her film - but Hadžihalilovic's characters are too stubbornly ethereal for their own good.

Reviewed on: 05 Nov 2015
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On a remote island inhabited solely by women and young boys, Nicolas and the other boys are subjected to mysterious and sinister medical treatments.
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Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic

Writer: Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Alanté Kavaïté

Starring: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Nissim Renard

Year: 2015

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: Belgium, Spain, France

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