Evolution, which is out now, is a dark and disturbing nightmarish tale of childhood fears and adult anxieties and I was lucky enough to talk to Lucile Hadzihalilovic the director of this horrific and immensely effective piece of cinematic art.
Beware some spoliers ahead!
Love Horror: I loved the film by the way. I heard about it from a friend and he started to tell me the plot and then stopped and said “I’ll just let you watch it” which was the best thing he could have done as I got so much more from Evolution just experiencing it without any preconceptions. It is a film very deliberately open to interpretation, have you heard people come up with lots of theories on what it is about?
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: Yes absolutely I think they see the film through different angles and sometimes I am surprised. It’s like if you were playing like children, with this we are playing with the audience and the other people who watch the film and that’s very exciting. It’s like sharing a dream and people reflect on that dream … or maybe it’s more of a nightmare.
Love Horror: You have mentioned in other interviews that I have read that Evolution is a very autobiographical story can you tell us more about how you came up with the idea?
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: What was at the very beginning was this feeling of fear regarding what happened inside the body, inside the belly. I like to say its autobiographical and that’s a kind of joke of course but also its really pretty much based on my feelings and emotions I had at some point in time in my childhood when I was 10 or 11 and I was anxious about becoming a teenager I guess and the changes in my body and this idea of the belly.
Also it’s a time where I had to go to the hospital for an appendicitis which was nothing special. With all that I built a kind of dark fantasy about that and I guess the fears and expectations I had at that time which are very deep. I thought since it was a story about a child I thought it was really nice to have it in an imaginary world with this kind of touch of Sci-Fi or horror without it being inside the genre but more playing with it.
Love Horror: The film brilliantly deals with themes of childbirth and adolescents alongside many other gender issues, why do you think horror is such a powerful tool to examine these huge human ideas with?
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: It’s a way to deal with things that are very hidden and very mysterious you can express it through this kind of image or sounds but not really through dialogue. A straight drama it wouldn’t have had the same strength I think, it would have a different one.
Love Horror: Evolution definitely has power. I have to say I felt extremely tense throughout the entire movie more so than in many mainstream horror films is it important to you to create such strong feelings in your audience and how do you achieve it so well?
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: I really wanted the people to be like the child of the film the protagonist. I wanted them not to know what was going to happen and to feel things and not have things happening too quick. There is a kind of pace which had to be a bit slow somehow like with expectations. I would like to put the audience in a mood that they are waiting and make them open to the very little things that could happen and suddenly there is something a bit stronger which is supposed to be a surprise and that’s the way I tried to work.
In the editing room I made sure not to speed the film too much and to work with the sound also so you can be very sensitive and kind of paranoid about what is happening. You can make a lot of small things and a phantasmagoria based on very simple things very human also even if it’s a kind of strange world it’s not strange feelings I hope its human feelings.
Love Horror: The sound in the film is very interesting being that there is very little dialogue can you tell us more about that?
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: Oh course it was mainly put on after as we didn’t have much time on the shoot to take sounds unfortunately and also for instance all the sounds you can take regarding the sea it’s something that you really have to recreate because the sound of the sea is difficult to work with as it can be just a blank sound.
We worked a lot on the post production and of course we began to work on the editing without having the sounds which was difficult sometimes so that’s why we went to try to put some music. At first I was not thinking of having any kind of music at all I just wanted to have sound design and also to work with real sounds that belongs to this place so it’s like you don’t have any oxygen coming from the soundtrack somehow it’s more like using the sea sounds or the winds or other little sounds you can have there.
But at the same time we tried to take out a lot of sounds so even if you are not aware of it you have a feeling of something like it’s a too small a world. There is things missing like for instance we didn’t put any bird sounds which would be very normal at the seaside so not having this sound I think even if you are not conscious about it then little by little you feel something maybe not natural.
Love Horror: That’s fascinating and I guess that why the film affects you on a deeper level which it definitely did to me as subconsciously you are aware of something missing making it all the more unsettling.
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: Exactly that’s how we tried to work. Then we needed never the less to have a bit of music to put a stress on some scenes make it more intense sometimes so we also tried really to mix the music or what we called the music with the natural sounds so you are not so aware of a music score, its more inside.
Love Horror: There is a very dreamlike quality to Evolution especially in the settings and use of the sea, how did you find the location and what where some of the challenges in filming in them?
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: Yeah we were extremely happy and lucky to be able to shoot in the Canary Islands it’s one of the islands called Lanzarote and it’s a very interesting place as it’s a volcanic island and so you have this black sand and really dark rocks but also its very isolated. It was on the wild part of the island so there is almost no one really there.
You have this feeling of isolation and the strength of the sea was very interesting because it’s the Atlantic and there is a lot of winds so we had a lot of waves even if it was not too easy to put the actors in the water because of that. You have the strength and the juxtaposition between the very dry surface of the island itself and the richness underwater.
This is really what I was looking for and when I wrote the script I didn’t know about the islands so it’s something we found out afterwards so it was really like a gift in fact. Just the island by itself was a bit out of time and space and you don’t really know where it is because it’s not Mediterranean, it’s not African it’s something else and the village with white little houses are quite familiar at the same time.
Love Horror: It really was an odd location it looked like something from another planet or a post-apocalyptic habitat from another time.
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: Exactly I am very happy you said that because it’s something that we wanted to give, this mood of post-apocalyptic but without giving elements in the story. With my co-writer we really imagined a whole story behind the film of course a back story but we didn’t give many things to the audience again because it would have changed a bit the nature of the film.
But of course we needed to know more precisely so we could build up a consistent and coherent world. I think the audience especially the audience who is used to seeing genre films and Sci-Fi and horror etc. I think they had such a lot of things in mind and they can guess very quickly many things so that’s also why I thought it was not necessary to give so much explanation regarding the women for instance. I thought that a lot of people will get the kind of creature they could be and then the reason why they are there is not so important.
Love Horror: How did you find Max Brebantwho plays Nicolas he is amazing in the film?
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: We did a kind of classical casting and we were of course looking for children who like to swim and would not be afraid of the sea and also I wanted someone who could be kind of fragile but it was a bit of a contradiction because the boys we had to find had to be quite resistant to the water so they shouldn’t be too fragile.
At some point I saw a casting for a short film with boys of the right age and I found Max among them and what was very interesting with him was that in fact he was 13 years old but he looks less but he was much more mature than a boy of 10 years old.
Also and this was something I was not aware of immediately but because of his age and that he is so small I think he has a kind of fragile body and then a head that is just a little bit bigger somehow (Laughs) you know just a little bit but then I thought it gives a kind of fragility but also he has a kind of inner world that you can see even if had nothing to express.
At the beginning I thought that I was going to ask him to express more fear but this was not easy for him to do and we didn’t have much time with the shooting so then I thought that having this kind of poker face was quite interesting too.
Love Horror: What was it like working with the children on some of the more distressing and disturbing scenes?
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: In fact these scenes where not the problem at all I think for him and also for the other boys the dark elements where a bit fun because it was not real for them it was just like monsters. The real thing for Max was the part with the girl Stella (Roxane Duran) when he is swimming under the water and kind of kissing her although it’s not narratively a kiss.
I think this was the more strong thing for him because that was the more real element and all the horror elements the dark ones the danger the things with the creatures or the operation he thought that they were fun, of course. The work I had to do with him was to try to not let him smile “Do not smile, stop this smile, I can see your smile!” it was all the time like that.
Love Horror: What’s next for you is it something in this vein of fantasy and horror or something completely different?
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: Yes I think my taste and nature takes me to that path to go to do some kind of scary something. Also I am very attracted to imaginary worlds but then I see how difficult it is to make such films and I am a bit traumatised by the experience with Evolution. It took me so many years to make it happen in terms of production so I have a project which is quite dark and strange and mixing reality and nightmares but I would like to have another one also more in reality.
Love Horror: I hope Evolution gets the audience it deserves on its home release as although it’s a challenging film it’s also extremely effective and evocative.
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: Thank you I hope so too. Of course it’s a film that works better on the big screen because it’s more immersive but I hope people will have a good home cinema. I guess at home you could have a more intimate experience and the film plays on that level more than a spectacle film does.
Love Horror: Thank you and I am looking forward to whatever you do next however dark it is.
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: (Laughs) Thank you very much.
Evolution is out now and you can ready our review by clicking on the title.