a closer look at beautifully perverse new body horror, evolution

Lucile Hadžihalilović, the film's director, discusses gender roles, the fear of body manipulation, and working with her husband Gaspar Noé.

by Colin Crummy
|
06 May 2016, 1:35pm

In Lucile Hadžihalilović's Evolution, all the lessons we learnt in biology class are thrown out the window. The prepubescent boys on a remote, self contained Mediterranean island live secluded lives, watched over by strange mother figures, no sight of sisters or fathers anywhere. They are given eel like gruel to eat and dark medicine to drink before being carted off to the equally odd island hospital for a mysterious procedure to deal with what's growing inside them. Through Hadžihalilović's lens, a beautifully perverse and impenetrable horror emerges which resonates with the same kind of alien perspective as Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin with a nod to Alien. Here the French director and writer explains (just some) of the thinking behind Evolution.

How long has this idea been with you?
Many, many years. It took a long time to finance so in between time it grew in many directions. I began to write this before Innocence [her first feature length film] which was ten years ago. But it was just the beginning of the idea, a boy being taken to hospital by his mother because of a pain in his belly. Later, I added the seaside, the island, I added layers and it it became something more like Innocence, where it was a community isolated from the outside. But it's really about feelings and emotions and I tried to build a story that could give [sense to] this imagery, not the other way around.

Not everything is explained but is there an internal logic to the story for you?
Yes, absolutely. We were careful, because by explaining everything, we could destroy the film because the film is about mystery, how you don't understand things that are happening to you and what the adults are doing, so you fantasise that they are something they are not. Even if it's strange you might understand it from your own childhood even if you not as disturbed boy as the one in the film. [laughs]

The boy is on the cusp of adolescence. Why is that moment interesting to you?
Because it's a moment of transformation and a moment when as a child you are still under the authority of adults but you don't get them really. You start to question that and what is around you. This boy asks questions and doesn't get answers; it's like a detective story, even if what he finds is stranger and stranger and only leads to more questions. It's an imaginary world but that's more fun for me than a realist film. It's fun to imagine a world with rules of its own, because it's a feeling a child can get; the idea is to put the audience in that exact place as the child. You have to give up your intellect a bit and be moved by the film; accept that you will not be able to control or explain everything.

Why did you swap gender roles?
It was more interesting to have a boy rather than a girl in this situation. It's more striking and nightmarish. I wanted to underline the anxiety of it. The fear of having something in your body, which is alive, as you have in Alien. You are so used to seeing girls being victimised but here it's a boy by women so it's not the usual role and it's more shocking, which is what I wanted. In a way it's a very autobiographical story. As a teenager the separation [between the sexes] is much more obvious but at ten you can be a girl or a boy. The difference is this fear or feeling of something growing in your body, which would never happen to you as a boy.

The film is described as a horror. What would you see as the horror?
The horror is more in the mood than the images. In English you can call it a body horror film but this genre doesn't exist in French. So when someone describes it, it's a horror regarding fears of your body changing, to be manipulated, to have something alien inside you or be surrounded by people who might be ambivalent, who might be an alien and not the mother. But maybe the horror is what is real, when the nurses are watching the caesarean section. For me, this image is horror, the cutting of the belly, the doctor putting his hands in and taking out the baby. It's wonderful but…

Did you shoot that scene?
There is a part -- the moment of taking the baby out -- which is footage we found. We could have made a fake one. It was easier to find footage and we shot around that.

The underwater scenes are particularly beautiful…
I agree!

Did you have to get underwater for them?
Yes, I don't dive but we were able to work with a diver and cameramen from the Canary Islands who knew very well where to go for the shots we wanted. We would give him directions and he would go and do the shots. He went and did this shot of a beautiful shot at the beginning with an underwater volcano. I didn't ask for that, but he knew what we were looking for. It was a gift.

Did you talk to your husband about the script as you were working on it?
I talk not only to my husband but many people I'm working with. I wrote the script with Alanté Kavaïté, who is also a director. From the beginning, I'm not alone. Gaspar read the script and gave me his point of view. He didn't work directly on the film but just gave his opinion. You have to be careful, you don't need so many people to give their opinion but you need to have a few you are confident they will understand what you are looking for.

Evolution

is in cinemas from today.

Credits


Text Colin Crummy