Think “Clue” by the French seaside, add a splash of sleaze, crank up the queerness, and you get “The Origin of Evil,” a catty family-fortune thriller by the writer and director Sébastien Marnier.
When her landlady gives her the boot, Stéphane (Laure Calamy), a worker at a sardine-tinning factory, contacts her estranged father, Serge (Jacques Weber), an extravagantly wealthy restaurateur in the vein of Logan Roy from “Succession.” Like Logan, Serge is fed up with his parasitic kin, and behind his ailing, burly grandpa look, there’s old-fashioned alpha-dog savagery.
Serge’s relatives, however, are nothing like the inept Roy offspring: There’s his ice-queen daughter George (Doria Tillier), who manages his businesses; his wife, Louise (Dominique Blanc), an impeccably coiffured, Gloria Swanson-type; and the stony maid, Agnès (Véronique Ruggia Saura).
These ladies aren’t fooled when mousy Stéphane arrives at the family’s island mansion claiming to want nothing but bonding time with dad. Stéphane may be angling for a cut of Serge’s fortune, but so is everyone else. Marnier captures these power plays by framing the characters in playful split-screens à la Brian De Palma.
On the mainland, Stéphane pays routine visits to her incarcerated girlfriend, whom she keeps spellbound with sexual favors. Her loyalty, touching at first, grows increasingly questionable.
Marnier shakes up the balance of sympathy as Serge’s misogynistic mean streak becomes apparent. Foul as they are, Stéphane’s evil stepmother and sister may be worth rooting for. A tremendous Calamy (of “Full Time” and the TV series “Call My Agent!”) is central to the film’s gripping uncertainty.
Abounding with nasty women, “The Origin of Evil” could have easily been flattened by the weight of a feminist objective. Untethered from such neat messaging, this decadent murder-movie takes the online credo, “be gay, do crimes,” and runs with it — to delicious results.
The Origin of Evil
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes. In theaters.