Lucile Hadzihalilovic's mesmerizing sci-fi arthouse stunner, Evolution, a story about an island of little boys being raised by a colony of pallid mothers, is gorgeously unnerving. Nicolas (Max Brebant), a prepubescent boy, swims through the electric-blue and rust-red seaweed on the ocean floor, then is frightened to the surface by a gleaming red starfish, its five protrusions spanning out to the size of his torso. Back on land, Nicolas questions why his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) and all the others feed the boys medicine and seaweed goop. "Because your body is growing, and you're weak," she says. But these boys don't seem sick at all.
These mysterious exchanges between the village mothers and their sons that infuse the simple narrative with a creeping dread. The boys seem relatively normal, ribbing one another and digging in the sand to play, while the mothers gather together on the shore, silently bathing their children. Where are the fathers? The girls?
It's not long before the boys are taken "to recover" at a convalescent hospital where all the doctors and nurses are nearly identical to the mothers. Here's where Hadzihalilovic reveals a mind-bending gender role reversal, because the constant grooming of these boys, the way they're bedridden and poked and prodded in the belly, is reminiscent of exactly the kind of "harvesting" scenes we've come to associate with female characters in movies.
Clues reveal the origins of these boys, but nothing is explicit. This is a film that greatly rewards a close watching, sometimes subtly, horrifically grotesque -- and somehow beautiful. The sucking, liquid, slushy sound from one scene isn't something I'll likely shake from my brain anytime soon.