DramaFilmReview

The Origin of Evil

David Cunningham

Writers Fanny Burdino and Sébastien Marnier

Director: Sébastien Marnier

Money is generally recognised as the root of all evil. Director Sébastien Marnier (who co-writes The Origin of Evil with Fanny Burdino) suggests desperation may also play a part. A wordless opening scene of workers dressing for their shift at a fish-packing factory gradually focusses on Nathalie Cordier (Laure Calamy) who looks blankly into the camera lens without hope only hunger.

Kicked out of her lodging house and in dire straits, Nathalie contacts self-made hotel and restaurant tycoon Serge (Jacques Weber) claiming to be Stéphane, the illegitimate daughter he has never met. Actually, the real Stéphane (Suzanne Clément) is Nathalie’s lover but is not in a position to dispute the claim as she is in prison.

Having acknowledged a debt to Parasite with a member of the underclass infiltrating a wealthy family the movie progresses into Knives Out territory introducing a dysfunctional family heavily dependent upon an ailing patriarch to maintain their lifestyle. Wife Louise (Dominique Blanc) is a shopaholic, and legitimate daughter George (Doria Tillier) is taking advantage of Serge recovering from a stroke to try and take over the family business empire. Serge seems charmed by Nathalie, who makes no claim on him for support, but, as the motives of everyone in the household are suspect, it is hard to be sure anyone is trustworthy.

Considering The Origin of Evil is a thriller director Sébastien Marnier sets a surprisingly knowing, even slightly camp, atmosphere. The possibility Nathalie might be getting out of her depth is hinted at as the house surrounds her with menacing dogs, stuffed animals, and carnivorous plants. Draped in furs Dominique Blanc resembles Cruella de Vil.

Marnier takes an old school approach to building tension. A snide conversation around the dinner table is showcased not by the camera roving around the participants but by a split screen technique allowing the faces of each actor to be shown at the same time.

The script by Marnier and Fanny Burdino is teasingly ambiguous. The motivations of the characters emerge gradually and often in a surprising manner. Louise’s obsessive spending arises because her manipulative husband would not allow her to work. Initially Nathalie seems almost innocent- her claim to own, rather than just work, in a factory being prompted by an arrogant question from Serge. Likewise, Serge seems sympathetic – an old man coping with illness – before showing antisemitic and homophobic opinions. The twists and turns in the plot become apparent in a natural, uncontrived manner allowing for genuine surprises including a satisfying final twist.

The script slips, however, with a depiction of a gaol with startlingly lax security and in which inmates are allowed mobile phones. There is also the, apparently compulsory, fight in the showers between female inmates.

A charismatic Jacques Weber plays Serge as a humbled giant silently raging at the humiliation brought on by age and illness. There remains, however, a glowering sense of physical menace behind his degraded exterior.

Laure Calamy is a delightful sociopath, a likeable villain if only in comparison with the other family members. Calamy draws sympathy stepping forward to help Serge after a fall while the rest of the family watch like vultures. Even when the extent of Nathalie’s deception becomes apparent Calamy makes her actions seem a result of circumstances and aspiration to become part of a family rather than simple greed.

An irreverent approach to the murder mystery genre and sharp performances makes The Origin of Evil a refreshingly original film.

TheOriginofEvil is in cinemas 29 March.

The Reviews Hub Score

Irreverent murder mystery

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