Annihilation is directed by Alex Garland, and is based on the book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. The film stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac.
An object from space crashes into the Earth at a lighthouse, creating a strange region known only as the “Shimmer.” Those that travel into the growing Shimmer region do not return; it is a surreal landscape in which unnatural mutation is commonplace, and people that enter find themselves going insane and mutated themselves. The only person to ever return from the Shimmer is Kane, the husband of biologist Lena, who suspects something is amiss when her husband returns as a changed man. Lena and a group of other professionals lead an expedition into the Shimmer… but will they survive, or suffer the same fate as those before them?
Annihilation is at times cerebral and thought-provoking, and at other times brutal and shocking. The movie does put some fresh spins on the often-ailing science fiction genre, giving audiences an experience unlike any other of recent years. A strong cast, superb settings, and brilliant effects work keeps the attention of viewers, even when the narrative does tend to drag.
This is a film that is perfectly cast, with everyone suiting their respective roles perfectly. Natalie Portman is solid as the lead, who immediately begins questioning things upon the return home of her husband and his subsequent behavior and illness. The all-female team that goes on the return expedition to the Shimmer includes the likes of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tessa Thompson, and everyone’s descent over the course of time feels believable. While I admit the individual characters don’t have great, truly fleshed-out backstories aside from our leading lady, we know enough to get us through the film, and perhaps more importantly, to actually care for the characters. Everyone has great chemistry and interactions, which makes the conflicts all the more compelling.
The setting of the film stands as another superb asset. What we see inside the Shimmer is surreal; beautiful and disturbing at the same time. We see visuals like those of no other film, from beautiful flora to deadly beasts that have been mutated to become even more dangerous and unpredictable. If you want to keep your audience on its toes and its eyes glued to the screen, this is the setting you need.
The film also scores points for its more cerebral approach, swapping out the mindless action and one-dimensional characters of other films for something that will require the audience to dissect and process what they see unfold on film; the answers are not simply “handed” to the audience, and there are bound to be multiple interpretations of what one sees on the screen.
I should also probably give a word of warning that, although much of the film remains based around thought and exploration, there are a few moments where it is brutally intense and violent, earning the R rating. These moments do not last long, but are disturbing and graphic. Almost needless to say, leave the kids at home.
Annihilation drags in a few places and probably could have done with some tighter editing and the reduction of a few plot elements/flashbacks, but overall, the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses. This is a brutal and unpredictable trip into the unknown that audiences will not soon forget. And it comes highly recommended.
Rating: Three stars out of four.
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