Ten year-old Nicolas (Max Brebant) runs across the rocky shore back to his home, one block of a white village nestled in the coastline. He tells his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier, "Murderous Maids") he saw a dead boy with a red starfish on his stomach beneath the sea. She calms his fears, feeds him gray mush filled with living worms and four drops of medicine. But Nicolas believes all the single woman raising young boys in his town are lying and when they're all put in a hospital for a series of creepy medical procedures it is unclear whether this will mean death or "Evolution."
Cowriter (with Alante Kavaite)/director Lucile Hadzihalilovic continues the themes of 2006's "Innocence." There are many parallels between the two films. "Innocence's" young girls going through strange rites in the forest. "Evolution's" young boys experiencing strange surgeries by the ocean. Both are under the supervision of women only. Water and asexual creatures feature in both, "Innocence's" Wiccan fairy stars now "Evolution's" starfish, echoed in the medical lamps installed in the operating room. Even "Innocence's" dominant color scheme of red, green and white reappears here.
Nicolas and his friends are all serious young boys, Nicolas's only outlet the drawings he hides from his mother (Parmentier's harshly pulled back hair and pale brows and lashes given her an alien appearance). The boys and these women, attired in sheer buff shifts, gather by the sea but they're not really playing due to the intense supervision. Nicolas finds a red starfish like the one that panicked him and he smashes one of its legs off, much to his mother's displeasure. She keeps it in a water-filled glass bowl on the table where Nicolas is given his disturbing dinners. Nicolas knocks on Victor's (Mathieu Goldfeld) window one night, convincing him to follow the women on their nightly trek to the ocean. What they see is odd indeed, some type of sexual, biological exchange. Later that night, Nicolas spies on his mother in the shower, noting the suckers adorning her back.
This may be the catalyst to the boys seclusion in the eerily lit hospital, its walls a murkier shade of the ocean's green. The all female hospital staff gather to watch Caesarian operations. The boys are subjected to injections, surgeries, ultrasounds and tank submersions. But Nicolas has an advantage, having gained the attention of a nurse, Stella (Roxane Duran, "The White Ribbon"), the only woman who shows any real sign of affection on the island. She loves his drawings, one which looks like her. Could the woman named after a star be his real mother?
Hadzihalilovic's poetic bio-horror doesn't answer any questions, instead submerging us into her dreamlike, watery world as seen through her young protagonist's eyes. Could these women be manipulating human evolution into new sexual realms or back to the oceans from which we sprung? Her imagery, which begins with waving corals beneath the sea, constantly evokes amniotic fluid, fetuses and the starfish capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction. The film was shot on the rocky, volcanic Canary Island of Lanzarote, but it ends in an entirely different place from where it begins, an environment projecting more masculine sensibilities potentially harboring horrors of its own.
Robin gives "Evolution" a B-.
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