The Movie Waffler New Release Review - EVIL DOES NOT EXIST | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - EVIL DOES NOT EXIST

Evil Does Not Exist review
A tranquil village faces unwelcome change in the form of a proposed glamping site.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Starring: Hitoshi Omika, Ryo Nishikawa, Ryuji Kosaka, Ayaka Shibutani

Evil Does Not Exist poster

Evil Does Not Exist, writer/director Ryusuke Hamaguchi's first film since his Oscar nominated Drive My Car, has much in common with a couple of recent Romanian films. Like Radu Jude's Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World, it explores how the entertainment industry s increasingly co-opted to do the dirty work of unscrupulous businesses. And like Cristian Mungiu's R.M.N., it's about a small rural community's apprehensions regarding interlopers. As with Mungiu's film, Hamaguchi's features an extended and gripping scene set at a town hall meeting.

The Japanese filmmaker's latest is his most obtuse work to date, leaving viewers with questions about its form and content, and in confusion over choices made by both the filmmaker and his characters. A day later I'm still puzzled by its final scene and the actions of a certain character, but amid the ambiguity are expressions of clear frustration on Hamaguchi's part about the path the modern world is taking.

Evil Does Not Exist review

The drama plays out in a small village where everyone knows everyone else's business and it's still safe for an eight-year-old to walk home alone through the  woods. That eight-year-old is Hana (Ryo Nishikawa), the daughter of single father Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), who makes a modest but content living performing various menial tasks for the community, like chopping wood or collecting still water from a stream and delivering it to the local noodle restaurant. The owner of said restaurant sums up the attitude of the people who live in this village when she speaks of how she left Tokyo because the water in the village allows her to make superior noodles than those found in the city. Money is less of a concern than the fulfillment she gets from knowing she's providing the best service possible.

It's a sentiment that's tested when a Tokyo based "Glamping" (glamourous camping) outfit announces its plans to build a site in the village. Rather than facing the locals themselves, the company contracts a talent agency in the hopes that well rehearsed responses and fake smiles will be enough to win over the locals. Takahashi (Ryuji Kosaka) and Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani) are sent to seduce the villagers at the aforementioned town meeting. They're clearly unprepared to address the villagers' various concerns, foremost of which is the possibility of their water supply becoming polluted by the extra waste created by so many tourists. As the village chief bluntly points out, water flows downstream.

Evil Does Not Exist review

What he's really getting at is that shit flows downstream, a crude image that quickly sums up Takahashi and Mayuzumi's role in this sordid affair. As we watch them deliver frustratingly vague responses like "We will take your concerns into consideration" and "Your point has been noted," it's easy for the viewer to see the pair as the classic villains of an eco-thriller. But as suggested by his film's declarative title, Hamaguchi doesn't believe in the binary concept of good and bad. Following the fraught meeting, the film switches focus from Takumi to Takahashi and Mayuzumi. As we watch the pair endure a zoom meeting with their employer, we see that they're now the ones whose concerns are being brushed aside. Far from the cold-hearted drones we might have first thought, Takahashi and Mayuzumi are genuinely affected by the worries of the villagers. As they're sent back to the village to try to win over Takumi in the hopes he'll persuade his fellow locals to come around, Hamaguchi delivers an extended car scene in which the pair vent their frustrations at how their careers have lead them down such an unethical path.

Hamaguchi spends most of the first half of his film presenting the tranquility of the village. There are lengthy shots of Takumi chopping wood, of Hana walking through the forest, and of the treetop canopy as the camera gazes up from a worm's eye POV. Some viewers may find this a test of patience, while others will bathe in the expression of the slow pace of life in this part of the world. Such lengthy sequences may seem inconsequential, but they prime us for the impending assault on the land. Hamaguchi allows shots to go on for longer than is traditionally expected, only to abruptly cut just as composer Eiko Ishibashi's score is beginning to swell, a canny way to evoke the disruption the community is set to face.

Evil Does Not Exist review

Dreyer's Ordet would appear to be an influence on the structuring of Hamaguchi's latest. Like that Danish classic, Evil Does Not Exist piles one seemingly inconsequential scene on top of another to a point where we begin to wonder if this is going anywhere in narrative terms, and we question if we're actually invested in what we're watching. Then in the second half, when such mundanity is threatened, it becomes clear why the filmmaker took so much time in painting such undramatic details of daily life. This isn’t the tragedy of the pianist who loses their hands, but rather of a simple way of life threatened with unwanted complication.

Hamaguchi doesn't make things morally digestible for the viewer however. We want the village to remain unsoiled, but we also empathise with Takahashi and Mayuzumi, for who among us can claim to live a life free of consequences to others? Capitalism has turned us into human centipedes, constantly ingesting someone else's shit while ejecting our own waste into the mouth of someone less fortunate. The enigmatic to the point of head-scratching closing scene suggests that maybe we're all just animals, motivated by simple concepts like territory, family and freedom, that what we call "evil" is often simply the human form of an animal doing what it believes it must to protect the herd.

Evil Does Not Exist
 is in UK/ROI cinemas from April 5th.

2024 movie reviews