Synopsis: A playwright encounters a mysterious woman when he takes shelter in a chalet during a violent snowstorm.
Benoît Jacquot’s EVA is a revenge thriller that neither sets out the revenge to be convincing nor thrills enough for the audience to stay invested in the story. Failing to balance dramatic and thriller tones, the film ends up as a confused story that needed significant editing and script reworking to craft a more coherent story.
After an intriguing first sequence, perhaps the most interesting part of the film, the story unfolds in contrived and unconvincing ways throughout. Bertrand (Gaspard Ulliel) is an elderly care taker who has ambitions far beyond his daily occupation. When one of his elderly clients, a renowned French-British writer, died in the bathtub, Bertrand steals the late writer’s script and soon after, he becomes a well-known playwright. Things take a turn when he meets Eva (Isabelle Huppert), a mysterious woman who is an ‘elite prostitute’ that soon becomes a source of inspiration for the fake writer. Realizing he lacks the real talent and that his success is fake and short-lived, Bertrand uses his encounters with Eva to attempt to shape an interesting story that could serve as his next play. Things don’t always go to plan and his relationship with Eva takes unpredictable turns until the ending.
Jacquot seems fascinated with film-noir stories and in EVA, he attempts to craft a thriller that derives its heart-stopping moments from the mystery that shrouds its own characters rather than external circumstances or mysterious forces threatening their well-being. This decision works for a while, only to then lose steam too quickly when the story stops to progress in the second half of the film. The more we see of Eva, and the more we get to know her, the less she becomes interesting and the less the story itself continues to make sense. Her best scenes remain the earlier ones when the character is a question mark and an unapproachable figure whose intentions and motives remain questionable.
The biggest drawback of the film is how the screenplay handles its own themes. What could have been a gripping commentary on the desperate human desire for attention, fame and validation has turned into a convoluted, recycled and dull revenge story that never takes off nor succeeds in making this revenge noteworthy or even convincing.
Huppert does her best to convey Eva’s mystery, agony and resilience but the script underplays her as a one-dimensional character that ceases to demand viewers’ attention. Ulliel is given more to work with, as a fake writer who deep down knows that his success is undeserved and struggles to craft stories and words and resorts endlessly to plagiarism and outright theft to achieve social status and fame, but like Eva, the character is severely underwritten in the second half of the film. Rather than exploring the interesting parallels between Eva who takes on another identity (as a prostitute) and Bertrand whose identity as a writer is as fake as his own success, the film never fully explores the intrinsic human desire for validation and self-gratification, nor does it fully develop its characters in a way that transcends the cliché’s of the genre. The cinematography and the editing also suffer from uneven tones throughout the film and the overall rhythm is not coherent nor captivating.
Verdict: What could have been an intriguing social commentary turns into a mundane and utterly forgettable thriller that is neither suspenseful nor rewarding.