Provocative director Gaspar Noé’s Vortex, released in cinemas today, is a story of old age and the descent of dementia. Noe’s career to date has been synonymous with films of a brutal and disturbing nature and his latest work, while a harrowing experience in its own way, is more restrained and a departure from the extremities that precede his reputation. This week’s Friday Night Film pick champions a film by Noe’s wife and frequent collaborator, Lucile Hadzihalilovic, the surreal fantasy horror EVOLUTION.
Hadzihalilovic and Noé were both prominent figures of the New French Extremity movement, a term coined to group shocking, violent and transgressive films coming out of France in the nineties and up to the late noughties. Their collaborative efforts on mid-length films Carne and Jean-Pierre’s Mouth set the tone for their dread-filled and nihilistic approach, while Noé’s tragically disturbed Irreversible is perhaps the movement’s seminal piece. In recent years there has been a resurgence of French horror films that evoke the approach of the New French Extremity era, most notably with Julia Ducournau’s Raw and Titane, but also Revenge directed by Coralie Fargeat and Alleluia directed by Fabrice Du Welze.
New French Extremity films are unflinching in their depiction of sex and violence, with grotesque body horror and a lust for taboo-breaking imagery that make them near-unwatchable for many audiences, even those familiar with tough arthouse cinema. Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution is a more subtle and less explicit interpretation of the dark themes explored in films from the subgenre’s origins. It’s certainly an unsettling and disturbing experience, the film centres around a sick young boy who is subjected to strange medical practices at a hospital on a remote island, but it’s quietly eerie rather than relentlessly traumatic, while the film’s lush visuals and mysterious sound design are a distinct departure from the edgy aesthetic of New French Extremity films of the past.