The Origin of Evil: Bringing Down the House, by Scott Nye
Fans of the French TV show Dix pour cent (retitled and available on Netflix as Call My Agent!) have been accustomed to seeing one of that show’s breakout stars, Laure Calamy, ascend the ranks of the supporting actor tree in films like Ava, Sibyl, Only the Animals, and while those and the series have given her increasingly spotlighted work, it’s been a welcome development to see her take center stage the past few years in My Donkey My Lover and I, Full Time, and now The Origin of Evil. Each film has given her a more complex character to play, to that point that now, with The Origin of Evil, I shudder to think she could extend herself any further.
As we’re introduced to Stéphane, Calamy and writer/director Sébastien Marnier suggest someone a little bit on the edges of society, scraping by at a factory canning fish, unofficially renting a room from an elderly woman whose recently-unemployed daughter is looking to take her place. One night, she tearfully makes a phone call – “I don’t know if I have the right number,” she says. “I’m looking for Serge.” “Serge!” the woman on the other end calls out. “I think it’s your daughter!”
Their ensuing reunion takes her to a remote island and the castle that sits atop it, wherein Serge (Jacques Weber), a massive elderly man recovering from a stroke, is a bit at odds with his wife Louise (Dominique Blanc), daughter George (Doria Tiller), and granddaughter Jeanne (Céleste Brunnquell). Serge’s considerable business empire spans restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels, and while he’ll one day die a wealthy man, Louise to an extent and George especially are looking to take more active control sooner than that.
“I wanted sons,” Serge says by way of explaining why Stéphane and George have boys’ names, not the last thing he’ll prove to want that’s outside his control. But as Stéphane gradually warms herself to him, she may prove his ticket to justifying his continued dominance over the family. Or she may not be sharp enough to stay a step ahead of George, who after snooping through Stéphane’s effects, is a little suspicious of this person who showed up out of nowhere claiming a spot in a wealthy family.
And so things progress from there. Comparisons to Parasite, Knives Out, Ready or Not, or myriad other contemporary, twist-filled films about the lower class storming the castle and/or upending the social order are as inevitable as they are redundant. The class divide is one of the dominant themes of our time, and genre filmmaking has always been well poised to tackle it. Even before properly cementing his film as a thriller, Marnier teases his audience with his filmmaking style – an early dinner gathering with Serge and his family splits the widescreen frame first in two, then thirds, ending in fifths, getting the entire family in frame in their own disparate corners. What, possibly, could this film have to hide when everything’s in plain view? Plenty, we gradually find out. When there’s a lot of money at stake, people are rarely who they present themselves to be.
As the plot turns pile up, some may prove more obvious than others, but the delight in seeing them play out is never withheld, as Marnier is always sure to end such scenes with a bit of flourish to let you delight in the storytelling. Best of all though, is Calamy at the center, weaponizing her sweet-and-innocent look that made her so endearing on Call My Agent! and in her early films, bending it into something no one could say “no” to, until, well…that’d be giving it away. Among the many films like it though, her specific approach and the complexity of her character makes this stand out as something unique and individualistic. Even against a masterpiece like Parasite, she makes this an endeavor worth exploring.