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Evil Does Not Exist Review: The Ultimate Revenge Thriller

With Evil Does Not Exist, Ryūsuke Hamaguchi delivers the ultimate revenge thriller disguised as a quiet environmental drama.

On paper, writer-director Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist (悪は存在しない – Aku Wa Sonzai Shinai) is an environmental drama. The film revolves around the residents of the Mizubiki Village, a small community close to Tokyo, who are used to living a simple life surrounded by nature. Said nature sustains them, providing them with water and food, and also fills their lives with beauty and meaning. One day, PR representatives Takahashi (Ryuji Kosaka) and Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani) arrive from Tokyo to present a project called “glamping”: the company that hired them intends to turn the Village into a tourist destination by providing vacation packages that would enable travellers to camp on their mountains in a “glamorous” way.

At first, the Mizubiki residents are led to believe they have a say in the matter, and immediately point out that said resort would damage their village. Not only would the sudden flow of tourists damage the delicate balance of nature, and of the animals who live in it, but it would also negatively affect their water supply and way of life. But it soon becomes clear that Takahashi and Mayuzumi have very little say in what happens to their home, even if they sympathise with their cause, and our unfortunate residents begin to face the consequences of this sudden change.

For most of its runtime, Evil Does Not Exist gives us a simple, quiet story that mainly focuses on a few Mizubiki Village residents — Takumi (Hitoshi Omika, of Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy) and his family, particularly his daughter Hana (Ryo Nishikawa), with whom he often roams the forest looking for feathers and plants — and immerses us into their customs, showing us their bond with nature, mutual respect, and relationships with one other.

But there’s nothing simple in Evil Does Not Exist, a film that very suddenly and unexpectedly turns into something else entirely, merging genres to deliver a much more complex story that each viewer will interpret in a different way.

loud and clear reviews Evil Does Not Exist film movie ryusuke hamaguchi 2023
Evil Does Not Exist (2023 Venice Film Festival)

In the best Ryūsuke Hamaguchi tradition, we are treated to fantastic character work. Over the course of the film’s 106 minutes runtime, we really come to care for Takumi and Hana, and we are completely immersed into their lives from the very start. Evil Does Not Exist is very much a sensorial experience, and cinematography (Yoshio Kitagawa, of Happy Hour) and sound design (Eiko Ishibashi, of Drive My Car) work hand in hand to really make us feel part of this community. But company employees Takahashi and Mayuzumi are also treated with empathy, and the insights into their private lives make us care deeply for them too, confirming that “evil” truly “does not exist” in this tale, as the people we meet are all victims of a capitalism and social stratification.

Still, “what happens upstream impacts the people downstream,” and the Mizubiki Village residents are about to find out just true this is. Just like a wounded fawn who reacts with violence when their mother has been killed by humans, nature is ready to fight back, in the quietly brutal, unforgiving way that defines it. And so, each of our characters’ actions are suddenly judged by the very place in which they reside, until Takumi makes a seemingly meaningless, deeply human choice that upsets this carefully constructed balance, and pays the price for it.

Evil Does Not Exist can be interpreted in many ways, and there is definitely an environmental message at its core, but I mainly see the film as a slow burning revenge thriller where every single action has a consequence, and helps put in motion a chain reaction that leads to its inevitable, ruthless conclusion. And it’s a bleak message that Hamaguchi’s film leaves us with, acting like a warning and a call to action, but most of all as a reminder that it’s never ok to stop fighting for our future, and it’s up to us to ensure our children have one.

Evil Does Not Exist doesn’t reach the heights of Drive My Car, but it’s a darkly haunting, potent analysis of human nature and capitalism, superbly crafted by a master storyteller who uses the medium to its full potential, effortlessly blending genres and tones in what may very well be his most mature work to date.

Evil Does Not Exist premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival. The film will be released in UK & Irish cinemas on April 5, 2024 and in US theaters on May 3.

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