Philadelphia Film Festival – ‘Evolution’ is methodical and feverish

Directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Canada, 2015
Philadelphia Film Festival

Evolution is an odd bird. It has the mood of a David Cronenberg film, some of the peculiarities of City of Lost Children, and the child’s fascination of Tideland.

Nicolas (Max Brebant) lives with his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) in a small seaside town. Strange things start to happen when Nicolas sees a dead boy floating underwater. Soon, he and all of the other young boys in the town are taken to the hospital for an unknown procedure. Nicholas starts to question the workings of the town and his mother’s intentions.

Everything in Evolution is sparse. The walls are bare. The furniture is nearly nonexistent. The population is small. The hospital looks more like a seedy motel. Even the score (slow and dissonant) and the pacing (deliberate) are sparse. This all adds up to a methodical sort of fantasy, where the dread truly creeps.

And there is dread in Evolution, it’s just difficult to discern why everything’s happening. There are women that all look the same, small boys getting injected and having ultrasounds, walls that leak profusely, and suction cups that look like gills lining characters’ backs. A narrative peeks its head through, but director Lucile Hadzihalilovic likes the stuff of nightmares more than the stuff of explanation.

Evolution – and the title is quite allusive – features dream sequences, but the entire film operates in a strange feverish state between sleep and awake. It’s unclear often where dreams end and begin, pulling the viewer deeper into the rabbit hole.

There is an anchor of sympathy and reality in Evolution: the nicely drawn relationship between Nicholas and Stella (Roxanne Duran), a nurse at the hospital. The two communicate via drawings, and it’s their silent moments together that root Evolution in something tangible and real.

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