By Scott Dorward
Evolution (France, 2015)
“You know, my mother’s not my mother either.”
The only things I knew about Evolution beforehand were that it was French, it involved the sea, and that it was reportedly very strange. All of these are true. The seaside setting had also led me to assume that there was at least a touch of Lovecraft. This, I am less sure about. If anything, Evolution feels like an old-fashioned fairy tale retold by David Cronenberg.
Nicolas lives in a seaside community on a volcanic island. He spends his days playing with the other boys in its narrow streets or on the black sands of the beaches. When he can, he swims in the sea, indulging his fearful obsession with starfish. It is there that he spots the corpse of a boy his own age, lying amidst the coral. When he tells his mother about this, she only admonishes him for swimming somewhere so dangerous.
The community in which Nicolas lives is a strange one. It is populated only by adult women and prepubescent boys. They all live in boxy concrete houses with simple furniture and no electricity. There, Nicolas is fed a grey gruel filled with what appear to be worms and given regular doses of a bilious black tincture his mother tells him will help with the changes to come.
Things grow even stranger as Nicolas and a number of his friends are admitted to the island’s hospital. The women there keep a tight rein on the boys, subjecting them to regular examinations, injections and surgery. By night, the nursing staff watch films of cesareans with clinical detachment.
As boys will, Nicolas rebels and tries to uncover what is happening to him and his friends. One of the nurses takes pity and starts to hint at horrible truths. But will she prove his salvation or his destruction?
Evolution is shudderingly beautiful. When preparing these reviews, I pause films occasionally to take screenshots. While some make me work to find three interesting snaps, I usually end up with more than I can use. Still, I have never taken as many as I have with Evolution. I could happily have captured every frame of it, from the lush underwater panoramas to the creepy medical facilities.
The storytelling in Evolution is subtle and unnerving. As the mystery unravels it delves into some truly uncomfortable areas. All this is accentuated by slow, artful cinematography and the uncanny design of every aspect of the film. It all goes to create a sense of the island being idyllic on the surface but with a creeping corruption lying deep within.
The women on the island are especially unsettling. All are pale, slender and androgynous, with slicked-back hair and eyebrows so sparse they may as well not be there. Their mannerisms are detached and affectless. They have crawled out of the uncanny valley, capturing the alien essence of Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Evolution is the very definition of a film that is not for everyone. It is slow, uncomfortable and deeply weird. Some horror films set out to scare you. Others just slowly chip away at your sense of reality. Evolution lies very much in the latter camp. And this can be alienating.
People wanting a straightforward story may be frustrated. Evolution is a film that states little but implies much. The answers are largely there, even if no one says them out loud. In fact, this is a film with very little dialogue, a perfect example of “show, don’t tell”. This also plays into the strangeness of the island and its residents, adding to the overall creepiness of the atmosphere.
Personally, I was enraptured by every minute of this film. It plays into so many of the things I love in weird fiction that it feels like it was made for me. The mixture of body horror, corrupted innocence and fairy tales is as entrancing as any siren’s call.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – The Mortuary Collection (2019)
- 24 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 25 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 26 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and I Have the Only Key (1972)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
- 29 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!