London 2022

The Origin of Evil review – a multi-faceted thief makes for a cunning romp

Laure Calamy gives a sensational lead turn in Sébastien Marnier's twisty tale of mistaken identity set in a millionaire’s playground

In the immortal words of The Simpsons, “you don’t win friends with salad” – and director Sébastien Marnier proves the sentiment works for lower-class women working in a fish factory, too. In the world of the uber-rich, possessions are there to be forgotten and occasionally stolen by a maid, while family stands for nothing. In dire straits, actions can perhaps be held accountable by an ex-con hustling her way into family life, equipped with a double identity. The Origin of Evil provides a cutting comment on wealth and social hierarchy, with its eccentric ensemble victims of their own heinous nonchalance.

Nodding to the likes of Agatha Christie and Claude Chabrol, viewers could be forgiven for assuming they’re in for a single dimension of drama. Set up like a Cluedo introductory guide, faces of suspicion are attached to endless mansion rooms full of incomprehensible tat. The wicked stepmother (Dominique Blanc), ruthless girlboss (Doria Tillier), and estranged father (Jaques Weber) lay in wait to deliver predicted plotlines in the film’s first third, accented by a direction of photography that intentionally never focuses the eye. But like all good mysteries, the thrill is in the element of surprise, arriving by way of a mid-point tonal shift gift-wrapped in deceit.

The success of the film itself comes largely down to lead Laure Calamy, playing the role of Nathalie Cordier, a woman with no fixed past or abode. The audience meets her as Stéphane Marson, having successfully tracked down her long-lost father after spending years apart. Immediately loathed by her new extended family, she sets out to unravel the complex family dynamic that have already frayed. Much like her character, Calamy holds all the cards. Coming from the commercial success of Call My Agent! and a tour de force role in Her Way, she once again proves her acting repertoire can hold no bounds.

Straddling the thin line between a wholesome, doting daughter and a conniving, calculating thief, Calamy instantly burrows into the lives of those that detest her, armed only with the action of appeasement. Whether viewers are aware of Calamy's work or completely unfamiliar, the same can be said for her onscreen charm here, as she worms her way into the mental library of the viewer.

The subject and choice of journey may not be groundbreaking, but The Origin of Evil ensures a good time and a satisfying result. Wanton rich folk do indeed get (metaphorically) eaten, yet Marnier ensures a sadistic tension when letting them get their own way. Where does right end and wrong begin? Who knows. But it does help to have a few fake IDs to hand just in case.

The Origin of Evil screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2022. A UK release date has yet to be announced.

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