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After an often tedious first hour something remarkable happens in Evil Does Not Exist: the film blossoms as a disturbing parable on the lurking dangers nature and humankind have in common.

Halfway, you might feel the urge to walk out of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s follow-up to awards darling Drive My Car, once the story about a community troubled by the imminent construction of a glamping site in their pristine woodland descends into protracted, mundane scenes that lack character development, tension and basic plot progression. But stick with it and you are rewarded with an ambiguous, unsettling denouement that lingers in the mind for days.

From the prolonged opening images of rustling branches on leafless trees it is evident that Hamaguchi goes full-in on the ‘slow film’ approach that I have a long history of not caring for. Evil Does Not Exist’s first hour is filled with scene after scene that tested my patience, most prominently a 20-minute town hall meeting that plays out like a tedious cinema verité documentary.

The director shows some beautiful imagery of Japanese landscapes and is steadfast in his desire to slowly unravel the smouldering narrative but that first hour will frustrate many, also because the actors are purposely enigmas, bordering on a blank canvas.

Luckily the third act switches gears – or rather genre – as Evil Does Not Exist reveals itself to be a close cousin to the works of David Lynch and Jonathan Glazer in terms of unexpected horrors lurking beneath mundanity.

Giving away more would ruin the film – and I’m not even sure that I understand what exactly the point is that Hamagushi wants to make – but rest assured that you will walk out of the movie theatre contemplating what you should fear most: wild nature, the way we people encroach on it, or both.

release: 2024

director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

starring: Hitoshi Omika, Ryô Nishikawa, Ryûji Kosaka, Ayaka Shibutani


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