Delving into the world of deception, Gemma Creagh reviews at french thriller The Origin of Evil. 

Shirking any preconceived notions of slick, polished con-artist tropes, The Origin of Evil brings something altogether more complex – and quite frankly weird – to the table.

Laure Calamy plays a squirrelish woman on the cusp of middle age who spends her days packing anchovies and fish soup in a fish plant. At the local prison, she is stood up by the unseen person she’s there to visit. When she returns to her terraced suburban home, an older landlady tells her she has to move out, before lavishing her in forehead kisses. Our mysterious lead works up the courage to make a call to Serge Dumontet (Jacques Weber), seemingly her birth father with whom she’s trying to reconnect with after the death of her mother. This tantalysing drip feeding of disjointed information by writer/director Sébastien Marnier not only adds layers of tension, but allows for consistent fun and satisfying reveals for the entire run time.

Calamy’s character Nathalie Cordier is posing as Stéphane, who as it turns out, is also her girlfriend and the intended recipient of that earlier prison visit. When she meets Serge, the pair bond in a manner strangely flirtatious from Serge’s POV. When he invites his “daughter” back to his palatial home, she gets an ice cold reception from his hoarder wife, Louise Dumontet (Dominique Blanc), his ambitious daughter George Dumontet (Doria Tillier) and their devoted servant Agnès (Véronique Ruggia). They suspect Nathalie-posing-as-Stéphane is a gold digger of sorts, but Nathalie avoids detection and worms her way into becoming a fixture in the lavish space. No longer propagating the image of the charming patriarchal tycoon, Serge reveals himself, in these closer quarters, to be a coarse and lecherous bigot. As the family divides into factions, a series of doubles crosses ignites a violent battle to control the family business and estate.

Much like the film’s fabulously convoluted plot, the camera work reflects an eccentricity; slow zooms and dolly shots might give power to a character, while high angles take them away. The use of split screen places diners at a dinner table in the same frame, or announces an uninvited guest stalking outside a window. The grading is rich, conveying the lavishness of the production design and cluttered excess of the props. The sound design is strong, tense, pulsing in some moments, or pacey or humorously light in others. There’s one element of narrative logic that doesn’t quite ring through, in how someone with such determination and commitment to the grift works in a fish plant. In reality Nathalie would be hedge fund manager or the head of a bank.

There are elements of this film that feel exploitative. The opening shot depicts the locker room of the fishpacking factory. This is nod to the classic opening of Carrie, sure – but one wonders in the professional work environment of a fish packing facility, would so many women really just stand around, chatting topless? This continues into some of the sensual scenes between Nathalie and Stéphane, the camera lingers on these intimate moments for a beat too long. The same goes for a scene where Nathalie is taking a bath. The gaze of the lens sits admiring her before the next beat ensures. There’s even a naked lesbian fight scene in the prison. Marnier is obviously doing his bit to ensure the continued employment of French Intimacy coordinators with every production.

The stellar performances of the entire cast mean the chemistry fueling the dynamics of these mostly terrible characters is just fantastic. Doria Tillier as George is strong, furious and powerful; Jacques Weber as Serge is vile, explosive and delivers pure BCE (Brian Cox Energy). However Laure steals the show. She makes such interesting, often comical choices in personifying this awkward and hilarious conwoman. Her demeanour is that of a gentle people pleaser, masking that pitch black and quasi delusional madness underneath in a way that will have you squirming in your seat.

The Origin of Evil is a flavoursome cocktail of Succession mixed with Saltburn garnished in a unique French sensibility.

The Origin of Evil is in Cinemas 29th March. 



Gemma Creagh is a writer, filmmaker and journalist. In 2014 she graduated with a First from NUIG’s MA Writing programme. Gemma’s play Spoiling Sunset was staged in Galway as part of the Jerome Hynes One Act Play series in 2014. Gemma was one of eight playwrights selected for AboutFACE’s 2021 Transatlantic Tales and is presently developing a play with the Axis Theatre and with the support of the Arts Council. She has been commissioned to submit a play by Voyeur Theatre to potentially be performed in Summer 2023 as part of the local arts festival. Gemma was the writer and co-producer of the five-part comedy Rental Boys for RTÉ’s Storyland. She has gone on to write, direct and produce shorts which screened at festivals around the world. She was commissioned to direct the short film, After You, by Filmbase and TBCT. Gemma has penned articles for magazines, industry websites and national newspapers, she’s the assistant editor for Film Ireland and she contributes reviews to RTE Radio One’s Arena on occasion.

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