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Streaming Selections: Evolution

written by rick March 31, 2017
Streaming Selections: Evolution

More than 10 years separate Lucile Hadzihalilovic‘s Innocence and her 2015 Evolution, but the decade in between didn’t diminish the director’s poetic vision, resolute emphasis on slowness and children, and tone of generally creeping dread. If anything, Evolution ups the ante, swapping in an uncanny group of young boys at an unsettling seasside resort for Innocence‘s female ballerinas and mixing in a huge dose of body horror to boot. 

Evolution is a nightmare of loose connections, tenuous allegories, damp bodies, damper walls, bloody noses, starfish, and scalpels. If David Cronenberg went to the sea for a vacation and ended up doing extremely strong narcotics with Guillermo del Toro, this might be the slide show he’d bring back.

The narrative centers on a group of youngsters — all white, remarkably Aryan-seeming — sequestered in a small village. (Evolution was shot near Morocco, though I don’t think this is ever mentioned in the film itself.) There are no fathers. Some of the nurses who tend to them portray themselves as “mothers” to the individual children, but this is increasingly revealed to be a dubious claim. Something else is afoot.

In long, often-silent takes, Hadzihalilovic and her DP Manuel Dacosse (neo-giallo The Strange Color of Your Body’s TearsThe ABC’s of Death) drive the unsettling tone into our stomachs. Our protagonist is Nicolas (newcomer Max Brebent), who stares clear-eyed at the goings-on and, quite rightly starts thinking something is off here. Evolution taps into the thrill and questioning of childhood through Nicolas, becoming something of a detective story as he tries to uncover what’s behind the squid ink soup the boys are fed, the nightly medicine, impassive female staff, the belly surgeries.

And that’s before he even trails his keepers to the seaside at night, in a startling scene we can’t get into here without ruining it.

Everything in Evolution is viscous, wet, slimy. The operating rooms appear to have been inherited from an earlier time. Nicolas’ obsession with starfish and their regenerative powers is mirrored visually in the OR lights, and in his starfish-shaped pupils on at least one occasion. Hadzihalilovic has an incredible ability and deftness in her presentation of riddles that won’t be resolved; Evolution, as one disgruntled critic put it, raises more questions than it answers. An odd idea, this — that cinema is supposed to answer questions.

Final moments involve another dive into the deep, a distant town, and some rather suggestive, even transgressive sexual imagery. Evolution isn’t for everyone. But if you have the patience for it and want your horror drippingly murky and obsessed with bodies, this might be a weirdo classic.

(Streaming on Netflix)

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The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Keeping things on the damp side, you can also take a plunge into one of Wes Anderson’s most-overlooked films. Sure, it’s lumpy and ill-paced, but The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou has so many charms that it seems unjust to fault it for failing to be The Royal Tenenbaums.

Anderson’s tics are in full effect, possibly front-loading the film to a degree that even many fans found grating upon its release. But it’s also full of wit and that particular ragged, hand-sewn geniality this auteur brings to all his projects. Plus the soundtrack is great.

(Streaming on Netflix)


Gremlins is Gremlins. Do I need to argue in favor of it? Joe Dante has never been more fun (with the possible exception of its sequel). Here’s a film in love with schlock and genre, wearing its heart on its sleeve. It’s fun for the whole family, assuming your family is a bit twisted.

(Streaming on Netflix)


Speaking of genre masterpieces, Robocop is also out there waiting for you. We could have long conversations about the thematic relevance of Paul Verhoeven’s post-human ode to the end times and Donald Trump’s post-factual America. Or we could just enjoy Robocop because it is awesome.

(Streaming on Amazon Prime)

There Will Be Blood

Drawing on Upton Sinclair but playing fast and loose with the material, There Will Be Blood is the strangest of things: a cinematic treatment in love with ideas, images, and celluloid that also functions as an almost stage-bound drama, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano squaring off on the ashes of frontier faith and capital.

It’s smart, funny, utterly gorgeous to look at, and ultimately bruising. Rewatch it today and marvel at the fact that “I drink your milkshake” ever entered the cultural lexicon.

(Streaming on Amazon Prime)

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