Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
review by Steven Hampton
Living on an island that seems stuck in the past, wayward boy Nicolas indulges his fascination for swimming in the sea, and finds a red starfish seemingly placed atop the body of drowning
victim. Corralled by a strange tail-free mermaid who's not his real mother, inquisitive but not particularly rebellious Nic is eventually taken away to a rundown med-lab where sinister nurses
conduct disturbing operations. Is he going to become another sacrificial corpse left in the eldritch water? Do the weird women belong to an isolated pagan cult, or is there a more science
fictional explanation for whatever it is that's going on here?
There are many cleverly conceived scenes of almost mesmerising otherness in this darkly brooding mystery by French writer-director Lucile Hadzihalilovic (Innocence, 2004), but the
slowly paced drama never manages to rise above the picture's weakly composed pretension. It is a suffocating nightmare movie, but one that rarely evades the clutches of its own blatantly
obvious dreamscape premise to have a specific sci-fi or sociopolitical relevance - to a displaced puberty, or Cronenberg experiments crashing into a Lynch style purgatory. The prominent
surrealism is this art-house effort's best saving grace.
The perverse sensuality and limp surrogacy in some kind of gender dystopia whisper of Lovecraftian horrors. Unfathomably purple symbolism and creepy revelations abound but without narrative
charge. Its gloomy atmosphere contrasts with overlong scenes of dreaming life down on the seabed. Don't see this if you demand that movies explain themselves, because the filmmaker withholds
too many essential facts (well, perhaps there never were any to begin with!) that might have helped unwary viewers make sense of it all. Interpret wildly after viewing to your heart's content.
Then watch it again and, very probably, you can then prove your own mindful theories wrong! That's the true power of this movie's contribution to modern cinema.