VOD SQUAD: Feminist body horror and Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington in a Western

French film fans may know her as the wife of film provocateur Gaspar Noé (Love, Enter the Void) but Lucile Hadzihalilovic is a brilliant – and equally provocative – filmmaker in her own right, having won international accolades for a series of unique shorts and for her explosive, savage feature debut, Innocence in 2004.

Hadzihalilovic’s second feature, Evolution (IFC Midnight), was one of  the most startling, challenging and mind-blowing films of 2015, the year it played at the Philadelphia Film Festival. Despite a brief theatrical run last year, it’s still virtually unknown here.

Hopefully, Evolution will attract the wider audience it richly deserves March 21 when it debuts on VOD and all home entertainment platforms.

Born in France to Bosnian parents and raised in Morocco, Hadzihalilovic has a unique vision of human identity and relationships. Her first feature, Innocence , which starred Marion Cotillard, is about a secluded school for girls where they are told they will experience the traumatic transition to womanhood in a place surrounded by nature, art and dance, but where they are groomed for a much darker purpose.  (It was released on DVD in 2007 by the now defunct Home Vision Entertainment and is currently out of print.)

Evolution is an equally dark thriller.

A sci-fi shocker about medical experimentation, Evolution is about boys. Or it seems so at first blush.

It’s set at a sparse village of identical houses on a tiny, rocky island far removed from civilization whose only inhabitants seem to be prepubescent boys and their young mothers.

The boys all seem to be sick. Or at least that’s how they’re treated by moms who seem impossibly young, nubile, innocent.

Is the island some kind of quarantine zone? We experience the story through the eyes of 10-year-old Nicolas (a breathtaking turn by chlild actor Max Brebant), an unusually curious boy who discovers that the boys are being used as experimental subjects. Hair-raising scenes show the (female) medical staff implanting critters inside the boys.

Soon it becomes apparent that the medical staff isn’t there to treat the boys, but to use them in ways creepy and nefarious to treat their mothers.

Hadzihalilovic is clearly influenced by the body horror cinema of David Cronenberg. But her mastery of the form and her commitment to creating a uniquely lyrical, poetic cinema makes Evolution an entirely original work.

Available on VOD, digital download and on DVD/Blu-ray via IFC Midnight and Shout! Factory.

Other titles of Interest

Brimstone. Duch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven follows up his acclaimed WWII drama, Winter in Wartime with a Western about justice on the American Frontier starring Dakota Fanning as a wrongly-accused fugitive who is hunted by a violent, vengeful preacher (Guy Pearce). Costars include Emilia Jones, Carice van Houten and Kit Harington. The film is now available on VOD and digital platforms. It also will be open Friday at select theaters (locally only at Carmike Ritz 16 in Vorhees). No word yet on a release date for the DVD/Blu-ray editions.

You Can't Have It. Actor turned writer-director André Gordon helms this semi-humorous indie low-budget barroom thriller starring Matthew Pohlkamp, Dominique Swain, Joanna Krupa and Armand Assante about a group of friends paying homage to their local bar on its last night before shutting up shop. The fun and games stop when the wanton sex, lust, jealousy and murderous violence get out of hand. The film opens at select theaters nationwide Friday, March 17 – the same day it’s released on VOD and all home entertainment platforms.

To Tell the Truth. Ever wished you knew more about the history of documentary filmmaking? This collection presents two one-hour documentaries about documentary filmmaking. Working For Change by Calvin Skaggs (Kansas to Kandahar) explores advent of the social documentary during the Depression and tells its history through its heyday in the 1960s and beyond. David Van Taylor’s The Strategy of Truth looks at  how different nations used film as a propaganda tool during WWII. The films are available in one package on VOD and all home entertainment platforms from Icarus Films.

Actor Martinez. A unique,  critically-acclaimed collaboration between two different writer-directors, Mike Ott (Lake Los Angeles) and Nathan Silver (Stinking Heaven), this reflexive low-budget indie comedy-drama about truth, lies and cinema stars Arthur Martinez (Rest) as Arthur Martinez, a Denver, Colorado, computer repairman and would-be-actor who comes up with a great plan to become rich and famous: He hires two directors – named Mike Ott and Nathan Silver –  to come to Denver and make a film with Arthur as the hero. The film, from Breaking Glass Pictures, had a limited theatrical opening Friday, March 10. (It is not currently playing at any local theaters.) It is due on VOD on March 28 and on DVD on April 4.

Silence. Martin Scorsese’s third epic about religion after The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun is a visually striking, if narratively uneven exploration of Christianity and colonialism in early modernity that focuses on the violent clash of cultures that ensued when Japanese authorities decided not only to outlaw Christianity, which was introduced by Jesuit missionaries in the middle of the 16th Century, but to actively track down and punish its converts. Andrew Garfield stars as an idealistic 18th Century missionary who goes to Japan in search of his mentor (Liam Neeson) who is rumored to have been captured or even killed by the Japanese. Available now from Paramount on digital platforms and on March 28 on VOD and DVD/Blu- ray.

And don’t forget. Other films available this week include Paul Veerhoven’s Elle starring Isabelle Huppert as an unusual woman who won’t be victimized by rape. It’s due this week on all platforms. … Ben Affleck’s gangster noir Live By Night is now available on digital platforms, due March 21 on VOD and DVD/Blu-ray. … Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt romance each other in outer space in Passengers available now on platforms. … Will Smith, Edward Norton and Keira Knightley star in Collateral Beauty, a heart-stirring drama about love and loss now on all platforms. … Low budget auteur of the wacky and weird Anna Biller follows her brilliant 2007 satire Viva with The Love Witch, a hilarious take on ‘60s and ‘70s devil worship pictures now on all platforms.

Special event: 'North by Northwest' at theaters

There has been so much scholarly verbiage about the greatness of Alfred Hitchcock’s work that it’s easy to forget that the master’s films were successful mass spectacles.

The best films, including Vertigo, Strangers on a Train and  The Wrong Man never feel dated and remain thrilling even in the age of CGI and music-video editing.

See for yourself at a rare two-day screening of  the extraordinary 1959 thriller North by Northwest which will screen only two nights on April 2 and April 5 at select theaters as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series.

Scripted by Ernest Lehman, whose films include West Side Story, Sweet Smell of Success and the Sound of Music, North by Northwest is a very clever spy movie of epic proportions that uses virtually the entire country as its backdrop.

The picture opens with a familiar 1950s film scene: A middle aged Madison Avenue ad exec (Cary Grant) uses all his wits and charm to pick up a beautiful blonde (played by the incomparable Eva Marie Saint) during a train journey.

Within minutes our hapless hero finds himself in the middle of a deadly Cold War conspiracy involving a sinister Euro-suave villain (James Mason) that takes him across the country where he ends up fighting for his life atop Mount Rushmore. Martin Landau is brilliant in a supporting role as Mason’s utterly devoted henchman.

Screenings will be held April 2 and April 5 at three area theaters: : Riverview Plaza 17 in South Philly, Cinemark University City 6 in University City and the Carmike Ritz Center 16 in Voorhees. For tickets and information visit the Fathom Events website.

Where to watch:

A selection of the most popular online video providers:
Amazon Video: www.amazon.com/video/
FandangoNow: www.fandangonow.com/
Google Play: https://play.google.com
Hulu: www.hulu.com/
iTunes: www.apple.com/itunes/video/
Movies On Demand: www.rentmoviesondemand.com/
Vimeo On Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand
Vudu: www.vudu.com/
Xbox: www.microsoft.com/en-US/movies-and-tv

Video On Demand and Pay-Per-View also offered by most cable and satellite TV providers:

DirecTV On Demand: www.directv.com/technology/on_demand
Dish TV On Demand: www.mydish.com/perks/on-demand
Xfinity On Demand: www.xfinity.com/xod.html