Directed By: Alex Garland
Written By: Alex Garland
Run Time: 115 Minutes
‘Annihilation’ is an incredibly textured sci-fi/horror film. Feared by studio executives to be “too lofty in thought and story telling” for a mainstream audience and that elements needed to be “adjusted” or “dumbed down.” Originally intended to be released on the small screen for Netflix by the studio, director and screenwriter Alex Garland argued that core parts of the film should not be tampered with as it would affect the final result of the film. Additionally, he shot it with the intention of it being released in a theater. Where, at least I would argue, is the best way to ingest any type of film, especially a special effects ridden science fiction movie.
Unlike ‘Ex Machina,’ Garland’s previous film before this one, which was marketed as a science fiction horror and ended up not being quite that; ‘Annihilation’ is exactly what was marketed to you. Although intellectually it is a very complicated and layered film, at it’s most simple explanation it's: ‘The Lost World’ meets ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ meets a Tool music video. It is haunting, creepy, gut wrenching, and entirely impossible to turn away from. Although much of the film you’ve seen setups like the one here: a group of scientists explores a mysterious area and one by one each one either loses it mentally, killing other members of the party, or they get oft one by one by a mysterious force - leading up to a showdown at the end a la ‘Alien.’ What makes ‘Annihilation’ stand apart is not so much the set up and the overall story, but in the execution of it’s mind bending story and it’s psychology. If you enjoyed Alex Garland’s ‘Ex Machina’ twist ending, you’ll be right at home here.
Based on a book of the same title by author Jeff Vandermeer. ‘Annihilation’ is actually the first part of a book trilogy titled: ‘The Southern Reach’ trilogy. The book and the film share many similarities thematically, but large portions of the story are different. Both share the themes of human self destruction, self pity, questioning the purpose of existing in this world, or fighting to change or destroy it. Each character in the film represents one of these themes. The film opens with a meteor striking a remote lighthouse and as a result creates this prism-like atmosphere that is rapidly expanding and is referred to as ‘The Shimmer.’ The government has sent in several teams to explore and document their findings,and like the Bermuda triangle, mysteriously none of the parties have ever returned. That is at least until an Army captain named ‘Kane’ (Oscar Isaac) randomly appears in the kitchen of his estranged biologist wife ‘Lena’ (Natalie Portman). Naturally this raises some concern, as Kane convulses into a coma, piquing Lena’s interest to enter the shimmer with the intention of finding out how to save her soon to be late husband. Through flashbacks, dreams and more flashbacks we learn more about Lena and Kane’s relationship, never really knowing if what Lena is seeing is real or she is just going crazy.
The film is beautifully shot and acted with an absolutely stellar cast - similarly to Ex Machina. The score is equally unnerving and really sets the tone for the film. ‘Annihilation’ sets up fairly early a mystery and gives us just enough information to continue to make you feel curious about what the shimmer really is. The characters and the audience go through a “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment simultaneously and that is fun. We are discovering all this craziness too and you really don’t want the adventure to end. ‘Annihilation’ is not an uplifting film, it does not have a lot of positive messages to give, but it is a thrilling and mind bending ride, almost like an elongated episode of the ‘Twilight Zone,’ that is enthralling from start to finish.