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'Earwig' Review: A ponderous mystery without much bite by Lucile Hadžihalilović

'Earwig' - Lucile Hadžihalilović

The evolution of the French filmmaker Lucile Hadžihalilović should give you some perspective as to what to expect from one of her puzzling films that never seem to stick to the linear rules of cinema.

Collaborating with the controversial Argentine director Gaspar Noé throughout the 1990s, Hadžihalilović produced and edited his early short film Carne in 1991 before taking on the same role for his first feature film I Stand Alone in 1998. Forming a symbiotic creative partnership, Noé said of their relationship, “We discovered that we shared a desire to make films atypical and we decided together to create our own society, Les Cinémas de la Zone, in order to finance our projects”. 

The society has since played host to several of Noé’s films, with Hadžihalilović releasing her films outside of this collective, setting herself apart from the Argentine, creatively at least. Diverting from Noé’s need to shock with graphic violence or glaring nudity, the two directors share a distinct love for innovation and experimentation, with Hadžihalilović’s latest film Earwig demonstrating this quite clearly. 

Containing her story in a simple dreamlike narrative, the basics of Hadžihalilović’s tale set a straightforward premise, following a young girl with ice cubes for teeth who is cared for by a mysterious formal gentleman who prevents her from leaving the house. Receiving a phone call from an unknown powerful overseer, he reports on her status on a daily basis until one day the caller tells him to prepare the girl for the outside world. 

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Hadžihalilović’s story then flips into a subversive coming-of-age drama in which the adults looking after the child must figure out the best course for her education, stumbling over their decisions en route. Captured within a haunting, hallucinatory style that mirrors the dark gothic ruminations of Guillermo del Toro, Earwig morphs into an unsettling mood piece that is often unsettling and sometimes, undeniably ponderous. 

Despite creating a grand world that suffuses with mystery and grubby detail, the sheer weight of Hadžihalilović’s ambitious tale proves too much for the film’s foundations to handle, becoming cumbersome as it enters into its final act. Despite this, Earwig, and indeed the director herself remains an enigma of awe-inspiring quality, trading in curiosity and originality. 

Written by Hadžihalilović along with Geoff Cox of Claire Denis’ High Life, Earwig has been adapted from Brian Catling’s novel of the same name, with the literary detail self-evident in the movie adaptation. Composing her film like a quaint riddle, Earwig radiates tension though leads to quite little at all, making for a confusing movie feast that fulfils on several fronts but also leaves too many questions unsatisfactorily unanswered. 

No doubt Lucile Hadžihalilović’s latest movie is a worthy addition to her beguiling filmography that includes 2004s Innocence and 2015s Evolution, bringing a unique new form of filmmaking to her repertoire. Without the intrigue of her 2015 effort, however, Earwig feels frustratingly short, failing to live up to its promise and Hadžihalilović’s potential as a true contemporary great.

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