Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Cast: Max Brebant, Roxanne Duran and Julie-Marie Paramentier
Running Time: 81 minutes
Release Date: May 6th
Horror which serves a single purpose, specifically to frighten by way of making us leap has forced the genre into an area so formulaic as to be both utterly predictable and forgettable. With recent exceptions, such as The Witch and The Babadook, the genre has flatlined to such an extent that I feel as if I have seen the same bad horror movie six times in the last year, the only difference being the leading actors name.
Bad horror is like bad comedy, if it cannot fulfil its one objective, then there is no worse experience to endure in a cinema. Everybody wants to be Hitchcock, and play the crowd like an orchestra, but few can match up to his skill. So after growing weary of every horror director’s arrogance in their constant need to ask, “did I scare you? Boo! What about now? Boo! Scared yet, did I scare you bro? Boo! I totally scared you”, really, the only hope for the genre lies with those who focus on a consistently ominous atmosphere. Ambient horror, which moves slowly and ambiguously, making the skin crawl for days after owing to its eerie tone, Under the Skin is a solid example.
Jonathan Glazer rightfully earned acclaim for ignoring the surprise attack, in favour of a lingering, consistent sense of unease. It was not traditional horror, but traditional horror does not work anymore. The fear is in the silence and ambiguity, you cannot put your finger exactly on why you are afraid, and because of this, the feeling takes weeks to finally exit your system.
Lucile Hadzihalilovic has achieved a similar result with Evolution, a French dystopian body horror about motherhood, which is as chilling as it is confounding in its Lynchian surrealist approach to this subgenre. Previously an editor for Gaspar Noe, having worked on two of his grimmest films, Carne and I Stand Alone, Evolution is her third feature, this time putting a dark spin on the relationship between a mother and son on the brink of his teens.
A body washes up on the shore of a near-desolate seaside village populated only by women in their twenties and thirties, all with sons no older than eleven, but no younger than ten. The corpse is that of a boy, attached to him is a starfish and the person who makes this discovery is Nicolas, a sensitive boy, who is determined to possess the aggressive courage of a stereotypical male.
Quietly disturbed by his discovery, he strives to come to terms with his finding of a dead body, yet while many of the other local boys are equally as taken aback, the indifference of the women seems to concern him further. Being told by his mother that the scene was imaginary, her desire is to keep Nicolas at bay. However in doing so, she unintentionally draws his attention to aspects of her life, which she sought to keep secret.
All of a sudden, Nicolas is unfamiliar with this woman, her body now covered in suction cups, her activities with other mothers appearing to be rituals of witchcraft. This is not his mother, he concludes, this argument motivating her to hospitalise him as a result. Placed into a ward with boys of a similar mentality, he fights to learn more, but as he is analysed and operated upon daily, the trauma might be forcing him deeper into his own mind. The line between reality and imagination blurred profoundly, the story switches traditional gender roles as the boys learn they are carrying unborn foetuses.
As its logic twists and warps at accelerating rates, the experience of Evolution is horrifying, but fascinating in how it leaves a great many questions unanswered. True to Lynchian form, and sharing a number of similarities with Eraserhead, this is a work open to much speculation. Whether in intends to make a clear point, or simply show a dark alternative version of our world is debatable, yet in its quest for an open-ended horror experience it succeeds, by remaining with the viewer for days and days in the aftermath haunting them as they recall specific images, inexplicable, but unforgettable. Films such as Evolution do not leave your memory easily. They immerse you within the story and remain in your system, until you appreciate the anxiety of the onscreen characters who cannot rid themselves of a presence they cannot fully understand.