The opening shots of Evolution (2015), the long-awaited new feature from Lucile Hadzihalilovic, show a sumptuous underwater environment. (Her last full-length film, the eerie and provocative Innocence, came out in 2004.) The sea is so clear one might be tempted to breathe it in; the colors of the undulating forms of plant and animal life are psychedelic and virtually tactile. A young boy swimming in these waters is startled by the sight of another boy, drowned, a garishly red starfish covering his navel.
The swimmer, Nicholas (Max Brebant), walks from a rocky shore to his home in a picturesque seaside village of white houses. There, his mother, a slim woman with light-colored eyebrows, cooks something unappetizing-looking in a saucepan. His house has no modern conveniences, and the clinic he soon goes to, staffed by slim women with light-colored eyebrows, is similarly ascetic. Nicholas keeps a sketchbook, in which he draws things that are completely absent in his own environment: Ferris wheels, Christmas presents, and so on. Stella (Roxane Duran), one of the nurses or doctors at the clinic — there are no titles as such, and all the staff members appear to be women — looks through that sketchbook and takes pity on him. Although by this time it may be too late — the operation that, it seems, all the young boys who populate the village are required to endure has already been performed on Nicholas.
Spooky, tantalizing and beautifully shot and designed, Evolution creates a cinematic world that’s utterly sui generis, but which also resonates with recognizable echoes of “The Lottery,” Invasion of the Body Snatchers and, believe it or not, The Little Mermaid. It’s an impeccable, creepy and genuinely transporting movie.