Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution is often visually sumptuous, but the film is too aloof and abstract to make much of an impression, otherwise. The picture, a horror film only due to process of genre elimination, is the second film from the French director, whose 2004 picture Innocence suffered from some of the same problems.

The picture is set on a small secluded French island populated solely by a group of thirty-something women and prepubescent boys, all of whom are led to believe that they are in poor health and that the women are their caretakers.

As the picture opens, one of the boys, Nicholas (Max Brebant), is swimming in the sea and thinks he spots a young boy’s corpse under the water that has a starfish attached to it. His mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier), or at least the woman who calls herself so, tries to convince Nicholas that he imagined the whole thing, but he, unlike the other boys on the island, isn’t so quick to believe everything the women tell him.

This is a smart move on his part. As the boys grow older, they are kept in the hospital, where they undergo a strange type of surgery that involves removing their belly buttons. Although the film’s narrative keeps much at bay, it would appear that, once in the hospital, the boys are impregnated. During a sequence in which Nicholas is kept there, he awakens to find himself tied up in some sort of gigantic test tube where he is surrounded by water and accompanied by an odd-looking infant.

If you feel the need to define it, you’d probably have to call Evolution a horror movie since it seems to revolve around a group of adults performing bizarre experiments on children on a creepy, mostly deserted island. That being said, it’s more ominous than it is outright frightening and although the locale’s scenery goes a long way, the picture mostly fumbles narratively.

Evolution is, however, often visually stunning. The picture opens with gorgeous shots of the ocean’s floor and the picture features an abundance of lovely underwater photography as well as striking visuals of the island by night.

But the movie is too opaque to register. It’s willfully holding back. Rather than making the proceedings more mysterious, they eventually become tedious. Many of my favorite films are ones that do not provide discernible answers and I have a particular interest in abstract, surreal and open-ended films, but this one is too vague for its own good and its atmosphere doesn’t quite make up for its seeming lack of purpose.

Watch the Evolution trailer below: