It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
If I had to pin down "Evolution," I'd call it a coming-of-age story, though it doesn't often employ the symbolic shorthand that so many tales of pubescent terror do. No, "Evolution" feels like a transmission from an alien world, one where all the important narrative information you need is imparted visually. This is a supremely confident story about Nicolas (Max Brebant), a lonely little boy who grows up in a community of sickly-looking women.
Nicolas refuses to believe, as his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) insists, that he is sick. He swims in the turbulent ocean that surrounds his island home whenever he can and gets lost in daydreams that he visualizes through crude pencil drawings he keeps hidden away from his mom and the legion of pale, sunken-eyed nurses. They keep Nicolas captive in a rundown-looking hospital for young boys. There are no men on the island, only boys and women.
We learn about Nicolas's world in increments, but not just because we are learning alongside Nicolas. This is a movie about the alien feeling that accompanies any natural process of adaptation. Writer/director Lucile Hadžihalilović ("Innocence") respects and preserves the mysterious, brooding energy that ushers adolescent Nicolas from one revelation to the next. This is, after all, a story about characters who know more than they care to admit and the moments that force them to change or die. It's a movie about discovery, and it's the most novel, unsettling horror film of the year.
We learn so much about Nicolas based on Hadžihalilović's gorgeous nature photography. We watch as Brebant navigates the shores of a remote island landscape: loamy rocks cover a sulfur-grey beach while waves roar and crash on the shore. Hadžihalilović never lets us lose sight of the fact that Nicolas is, unlike his fishy-looking captors, seeing the world through human eyes: we tellingly don't see the ocean floor until we've already seen the skyline.