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I make a point of trying to seek out and watch horror movies by female directors, especially ones that come with a recommendation, and the general consensus on Lucile Hadžihalilović's Evolution (2015)--which I agree with, BTW--is that it crossbreeds Lynch with Lovecraft, which sounded really keen. So when it turned up on Netflix, I checked it out.

The film has some of the most beautiful imagery I've seen in quite some time, especially in its underwater shots. It begins with a boy (Nicholas) swimming in the ocean, off the rocky shore of a small island entirely inhabited by creepy red-headed women and eleven- to thirteen-year-old boys. Nicholas tells his mother he found the corpse of another boy grown into the coral and snagged in the weeds, a startling red starfish nesting on his abdomen; his mother tells him he must have imagined it, but late at night we see her emerge from the sea with the corpse in her arms, then watch her and the other women burn it on the beach.

Things continue in this way, with dialogue at a minimum and creepy shit at a maximum. Nicholas ends up in hospital for a supposedly long-standing illness which requires multiple abdominal surgeries; his ward is full of other boys with similar abdominal incisions, all in various stages of healing. Sometimes boys are taken away and put into a tank full of seawater, from which they only occasionally emerge alive. At night, the doctors, nurses and mothers all assemble to watch films of caesarian operations, one of which pulls back at one point to reveal the caesarian being performed on an obviously male figure with a massively swollen abdomen.

Nicholas develops a crush on Stella, a nurse who takes him down to the sea at night and lets him touch the suckers on her back before swimming down into the sea with him until he starts to drown, at which point she pulls him back to shore a resuscitates him. On another night journey, Nicholas and his friend Victor follow their mothers down to the shore; Victor freaks out and runs away, but Nicholas persists, spying on his mother and the other mothers rolling around naked in mud in a vaguely starfish-shaped pattern. Later, he watches her shower the mud off to reveal more suckers on her back, and after that, he refuses to acknowledge her as his mother anymore.

Victor dies after his last surgery, but Stella's treatments--which may eventually have caused Nicholas to grow gills--seem to do the trick in Nicholas's case, in that he wakes up from HIS last surgery to find himself in the tank, with a really freaky-looking baby floating near him. Shortly after that, Stella steals Nicholas from the ward, pushes him out to sea on a dinghy and abandons him in the middle of the waves, allowing the current to pull him away from the island. He wakes up to find himself drifting into a brightly-lit harbor full of people who probably don't even know "his" island exists.

What's important to understand about all of this, though, is that even if I recall most of the above in some detail, I can't remember whether much of it occurs in the same order I've just placed it in. The film seems to drift from point to point, devoid of explanation for almost anything; time is marked and punctuated by weird lingering shots on stuff like the conch shell one nurse presents the ward of boys with after Victor supposedly "recovers" and moves away, or the grave the boys dig for what looks like a decayed, inside-out horseshoe crab, or the strange scribbly pencil-drawings Nicholas makes not just of (say) the boy's corpse and the starfish but really normal stuff too, exotic only by virtue of where he lives, like ferris wheels and dogs.

The music is hypnotic, but there's a lot of silence and sea-sounds as well, a uterine heartbeat sort of pulse underneath much of the action. It's definitely not the sort of movie where things build to much of a climax, but rather something cyclical and natural, a pattern of growth vs. die-off that's repeated itself an infinite number of times. Nothing that happens appears to interrupt it.
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