STARRRING: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong and David Gyasi
A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.
Annihilation has us following Lena, a former U.S Army soldier now working as a cellular biology professor that is still grieving over her husband who has gone missing on a mission for nearly a year. One day he suddenly returns home, not remembering anytime of that missing time and suddenly he comes very ill. As a government security squad intercepts their ambulance, they’re taken to Area X. Lena is told that her husband Kane is the only survivor to have ever entered an environmental disaster zone referred to as the shimmer and into order to find out what is inside the shimmer and what happened to her husband, Lena joins a research expedition that consists of an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist.
Annihilation is a film based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, which has been adapted and directed by Alex Garland. The film focuses on biology professor Lena, who is still struggling to come to terms over the disappearance of her husband Kane, who has gone missing whilst on a mission for nearly a year. One day out of the blue, Kane reappears, with no memory of how or what happened during that missing period before suddenly falling ill. As their ambulance is stopped by Government officials, they’re transported to Area X. Lena learns that Kane was part of an expedition that went into an electromagnetic field, known as the shimmer caused by an object from space, and various military teams before have also entered but never returned…except for her husband. With Kane in a coma, Lena decides to join the next expedition, which includes Dr. Ventress, physicist Josie Radeck, geologist Cass Sheppard, and paramedic Anya Thorensen, to find out what exactly is inside the shimmer and find out what happened to her husband. Before I go further into my thoughts in detail about the film, being in Ireland I had to wait for Annihilation to be available on Netflix to catch it out as due to studio politics (change of leadership at Paramount Pictures, one of the producers and key financier of the project David Ellison was concerned that the film was “too intellectual/too complicated” after a poor test screening), the film would only get a theatrical release in the US/China and that’s a shame because I feel like I would’ve enjoyed this film even more so on the big screen.
Alex Garland’s Annihilation is a striking film once we enter the shimmer, the landscape is covered in a psychedelic coating making it beautiful to look at and that’s thanks to Rob Hardy’s cinematography work and the visual effects team behind the look of the world within the shimmer. Within the beauty of the shimmer, we wonder where the horror lies within the landscape that has caused several expedition teams to disappear without a trace. After all, there is two theories at the facility – either something is killing them in the shimmer, or they’re going crazy and killing each other. The film is heavy on the atmosphere, symbolism and it brings almost palpable sense of dread as the characters learn, along with the audience, that everything they’re discovering, everything they’re trying to accomplish feels like it’s for nowt as the horrors that are contained within the shimmer make it feel like it’s the end of times. There’s one particular scene, set in an abandoned house at night that is effective in its own right until a certain element is added to it that genuinely makes it even more horrifying and I definitely felt the influence of a certain scene from John Carpenter’s The Thing there. The score becomes increasingly effective as the film goes on and is at its peak once we get to the final act. The performance from the cast is solid, from Natalie Portman’s determined Lena trying to find out the mysteries of the shimmer as well as learn what happened to her husband, to Jennifer Jason Leigh being the reserved and distant leader of the expedition that wants to find out what’s at the source, no matter the cost, Gina Rodriguez is good as Anya, who is slowly getting more paranoid as the days go on within the shimmer the more they learn about what is going on and what it’s doing to them and Tessa Thompson is fine as Josie.
The film somewhat feels more about the destination than the journey as, outside of Natalie Portman’s Lena, the rest of the characters aren’t really fully developed much. We learn that every member of the expedition has their reasons for taking on this suicide mission, we don’t get to know much more about them other than to provide exposition to forward the plot until well past the halfway point of the film. Also the film took a while for me to get invested and feels like about fifteen minutes could have been trimmed down, particularly with the use of a few flashback sequences and one moment in the final act. The final act itself will definitely be the most talked about part of the film amongst audiences, as Garland takes us to a fanatical sci-fi otherworldly finale that fits within the themes ones self-destructive behaviour but the final moments will divide people.
It took a while to get me invested, once the expedition team went through the shimmer, I was hooked right through to the final frame. Finely directed by Alex Garland, Annihilation focuses on deindividuation and self-destruction, as well as how sometimes an alien life form may have no motive that can be answered if questioned ‘what do you want?’. While the film had me invested, the ensemble performances were fine, this will definitely be a film that’ll be decisive amongst audiences, especially when it comes to that ending. Whether or not the film will work better on repeated viewing, time will tell. 8/10