Directed by: Alex Garland
Cast: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny
Rated R, Runtime: 2hrs
In Annihilation, a strange and mysterious phenomenon named “the Shimmer” has been expanding out from a meteorite impact at an exponential rate for the last 3 years and will soon overtake major cities. The Shimmer is a swirling bubble-like shape with various rainbow colors, similar to the way water looks when mixed with oil. Though pretty, anything that ventures into it is never heard from again. However that changes when a soldier, Kane (Oscar Isaac), returns home to his wife Lena (Natalie Portman) after being missing for a year and presumed KIA during a military expedition into the Shimmer.
Kane isn’t doing well though: he has no memory of what happened to him and starts spitting up blood. After being taken to the Southern Reach military base of operations to be monitored, Lena, a biologist by profession, decides that in order to save his life, she must venture into the Shimmer with an all female group of scientists with the goal of scouting the area where it all began.
The movie is loosely based on the first novel in the Southern Reach series written by Jeff VanderMeer and will likely attract a lot of initial interest due it’s heavy hitter cast lineup including Portman (needs no introduction), Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens / The Last Jedi), Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), and Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok, Creed, and Westworld).
This is a different type of movie.
Director Alex Garland has done a stellar job bringing a thought-provoking story to life here; something he’s becoming increasingly known for after his first directorial role with Ex Machina in 2014.
The potential problem with Annihilation is that the story concepts explored are extremely cerebral and steeped with philosophical metaphors that may be more of an acquired taste than what most movie goers are expecting after watching the trailer. The studio itself seems to have accepted this as well, as the movie will only be releasing on Netflix outside the US; an uncommon practice for a bigger budget film, but a sign of the times and possibly the future of movie delivery.
That doesn’t mean the movie is bad; it’s actually quite good…it just may not be the type of movie for mass audiences. You definitely need to know what you’re signing up for before diving in.
This isn’t an action flick. There are a couple of action scenes, but this is more of a slower pace examination of humanity; specifically it’s self-destructive nature. Annihilation doesn’t focus so much on leading up to a “satisfying” ending as it does exploring what the journey itself means.
Admittedly, this makes for a polarizing film. You’ll either find its often strange moments captivating and want to mull over the implications long after it ends or you will angrily leave the theater thinking, “What the hell did I just watch?” Truthfully, you may find yourself asking that question even if you do like Annihilation.
The film deliver numerous “edge of your seat” moments. I was surprised how intense much of the movie felt despite the slower pace. The nature of the Shimmer itself helps to create this as it has a weird effect on its visitors; losing track of time, clouding their memory and feeling almost like a dream at times. The eerie score also does an excellent job of adding to the beautifully off kilter atmosphere.
The ending, especially what happens at the lighthouse is undoubtedly the strangest part of the movie, which is intentional. It will also be what people analyze, discuss, and debate the most.
Annihilation certainly has faults beyond whether or not it is your type of movie. While the movie tries to stay in the realm of science fiction horror, some of the things encountered push the limits too far; closer to the fantasy genre which feels a little out-of-place here.
There’s also a few decisions made that are illogical to the point of laughter. For example, late in the film the group decides it’s safe to make camp inside a house, without ever checking out the upstairs. You’d expect the scientists to possibly not think about doing a sweep of the entire house, however Portman’s character is supposed to be ex military.
The acting is exceptional…for the most part.
The acting, for the most part was very solid. Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez both show they have impressive range as actresses. Thompson plays a meek scientist here when her last few roles have been stronger, more domineering characters. Conversely, Rodriguez is known most for her good girl role in Jane the Virgin, but successfully mixes it up here as a character with a much rougher personality.
Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance, however was too strange for me and distracts from the overall film. Her manner of speaking is annoying and strung out; failing to convince that she’s competent enough to be a psychiatrist, let alone lead a team on a potential suicide mission.
Annihilation is not a movie for everyone. It is a fascinating examination of human nature that is worth giving a chance. If the slower, more cerebral aspect doesn’t sound like your usual taste, I would wait for Redbox or Netflix to decide what you think.