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The Origin of Evil: Film Review

Recalling the icy pulp of Patricia Highsmith and Claude Chabrol, the French thriller The Origin of Evil tells its story of the nastiness of a wealthy family with twists, turns, and darkly comic camp.

Within the past decade, the media-consuming public has become rather interested in stories about the unhappiness of dysfunctional wealthy families. Witness the critical success of Succession, Knives Out, and Parasite. The latest entry in this trend is Sébastian Marnier’s thriller The Origin of Evil. While perhaps not as completely successful as the aforementioned works, The Origin of Evil moves through its sensationalistic twists and turns with a nastily black sense of humor, a flair for lurid campiness, and the pulpy storytelling of a 90s erotic thriller. It is The Talented Mr. Ripley directed by Claude Chabrol. 

Laure Calamy stars as the cute but calculating Stéphane, a worker at a fish factory, who shows up on the doorstep of a wealthy family claiming to be the long-lost daughter of the patriarch Serge (Jacques Webber), a hotel tycoon. Serge lives in a garishly lavish mansion on the Island of Porquerolles, off the Southern Coast of France, with his dotty wife Louise (Dominique Blanc), scheming daughter George (Doria Tiller), granddaughter Jeanne (Céleste Brunnquel), and housekeeper Agnes (Véronique Reggie Saura).

None of them can agree on whether Stéphane is telling the truth or not. Serge recently suffered a stroke, and Louise and George see his weakened health as an opportunity to swoop in and take over the business dealings. As Stéphane makes herself at home in the mansion, developing a particularly warm relationship with Serge, she gets drawn into the battle, with each family member seeing her as a tool to their own ends. Outside of the mansion, Stéphane’s relationship with her flinty, incarcerated girlfriend (Suzanne Clément) becomes increasingly unstable. 

Marnier’s approach to The Origin of Evil is one of icy distance. There is no point of audience identification, even to provide the vicarious thrill of getting away with a moral wrong, such as in The Talented Mr. Ripley. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Marnier despises every single one of the characters, and revels in a nasty, “naughty boy” delight as their schemes are thwarted, and double crosses are revealed. The Origin of Evil is a gleefully misanthropic movie

loud and clear reviews The Origin of Evil film 2023 movie
aure Calamy as “Stéphane” in Sébastien Marnier’s The Origin of Evil (Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.)

The script for The Origin of Evil is full of twists, turns, and withheld information. Motivations for every character shift at a whiplash-inducing pace. This is done with the intention of obscuring certain shocking twists, but it often comes off as more discombobulating than exciting. It’s rather hard to get your footing when you are dropped in the middle of a scene where the characters are talking in shadowy double-speak and contradicting a revelation from five minutes before. 

Much of the obliqueness in the writing is tampered by Calamy’s marvelously winning performance. Calamy has an open face that never seems to be holding back any thoughts or feelings. As an audience member we are never quite sure of Stéphane’s intentions, but the masterstroke of Calamy is that she never plays that ambiguity, the performance of the character. Stéphane believes wholeheartedly in everything she says and does. 

The Origin of Evil does not seem particularly interested in any social commentary that is inherent in a clash between the wealthy and the working class. It is too misanthropic about the entire human race and too enamored with plot twists and style for any nuanced political point. Where the film does succeed is in conveying the particular, illicit delight of watching people be nasty to one another.

Get it on Apple TV

The Origin of Evil is now available on digital and on demand in the US and various countries. The film will be released in UK cinemas on March 29, 2024.

The Origin of Evil: Trailer (IFC Films)
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