The discovery while out swimming of a boy's corpse with a red starfish in its belly prompts 10 year-old Nicolas (Max Brebant) to so question his existence on an idyllic island that he follows his maternal protector (Julie-Marie Parmentier) to witness a bizarre nocturnal beach ritual.
More than a decade has passed since Lucile Hadzihalilovic made her remarkable debut with Innocence, a disconcerting adaptation of a Frank Wedekind novella set at a school for the ambiguous grooming of young ladies. Subsequently, she has helped partner Gaspar Noé write Enter The Void and directed the short Nectar, which served as a kind of dry run for this quirky aquatic companion to her first feature.
It’s set on a dystopic island paradise, which is inhabited exclusively by beautiful young boys and wax-skinned women with jet eyes, who feed their charges a vile looking gruel before tucking them up with a dose of medicine that knocks them out for the night. But Max Brebant begins to suspect his mother figure is lying to him when he finds a dead body in a rock pool and it's only when he follows Julie-Marie Parmentier to a forbidden beach one night that he gets more answers than he bargained for.
This is engrossing, eccentric and indelibly troubling.
Any film with body horror content is inevitably compared to a David Cronenberg picture, but Hadzihalilovic imparts a distinctively New French Extremist spin by reimagining the male torso and finding fresh uses for the tummy button. Moreover, she plays on male fantasies through nurse Roxane Durane before exposing penetration and pregnancy phobias with a gruesome caesarian sequence. Yet, in a film with so little dialogue (but lots of sonic eeriness), much is left to gnaw away at the imagination.
Abetted by Laia Colet's atmospheric production design and Manu Dacosse's extraordinary terrestrial and underwater photography, this is engrossing, eccentric and indelibly troubling. Hopefully we won't have to wait 10 years for Hadzihalilovic's next feature.
Full of intriguing ideas and unforgettable images, this is science fiction at its most elegant and enigmatic.