Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac
Released: February 23, 2018
I had some high hopes for this one, and it didn’t disappoint. Support this film to show that science fiction films like these can still succeed at the theater.
Annihilation is the film adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, directed and written by Alex Garland. I have some familiarity with Garland’s work. He wrote 2012’s Dredd, which was really good and I’ve heard high praise for his first film from 2015, Ex Machina. Annihilation just further cements his status as a guy to keep an eye on when he’s attached to a project.
The story is about Lena, a female biologist played by Natalie Portman whose husband played by Oscar Isaac has come back home after a year of being presumed dead from a military op. It quickly becomes clear something is very wrong as he can barely remember anything, and becomes deathly ill and is taken and quarantined by an organization known as the Southern Reach. Lena, wanting answers as to what happened to her husband, decides to join an expedition of all female scientists into a closed off area of land known as “The Shimmer”. As the mission goes on, they encounter unexplainable phenomena, and must try to finish their mission.
My previous review was for the original novel so I can comment on how this film is as an adaptation of its source material. Quite frankly I not only think it’s a great adaptation but I think I prefer it to the novel. The original novel was a top tier sci-fi read with great atmosphere and a chilling plot, but its characters were rather thin with very little actual emotional investment for us to give. They didn’t even have names, not even the protagonist. The movie fixes that by giving the characters names, added personal life details, personalities and backgrounds that serve as motivation for why they’re on the mission, and gives them a sense of comradery which makes the story more tragic. It also removes some details that would drag the film’s narrative down so as to streamline it more to fit the runtime. Last and most importantly, it preserves the novel’s spirit of Lovecraftian fear and desire to know the unknown. The only change that I don’t think they needed to make was change the name of the area itself, but that’s a very petty thing to knock it for and at least the new name sounds cool.
The technical aspects of this film are exquisite. The special effects are extremely convincing with creative creature and set designs, aided by gorgeous cinematography and stellar direction. The film is simply beautiful, no two ways about it. Garland managed to bring to screen the haunting beauty of Area-X VanderMeer put to paper. Even as beautiful as the film is, there is still an uncomfortable feeling lingering in the back of your mind. Even as you get lost in the beauty of the environment, what you don’t see may kill you. The spin-tingling moments of tension in the film is aided by the film’s chilling musical score from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. The performances from the cast are all really good, especially from Natalie Portman as the lead and Tessa Thompson pulling of a pretty sympathetic and complex role.
Annihilation’s plot is hard to get into without risking giving spoilers away. The trailers have done a good job of keeping the plot as vague and detailed as it needs to be, and I’m going to try to do the same but fix a misconception some may have from the marketing. The plot is not your traditional sci-fi horror story you’ve seen from Alien or The Thing. It’s a much more cerebral, slow-burn plot dealing with heavy themes such as humanity’s tendency to self-destruct, the apathy of nature, and the fear of the unknown that all culminates in one hell of a climax and ending. All of this is aided by an emotional hook from the characters all having damaged personal lives and differing traits that set them apart from each other. That’s all I’m going to give away concerning the plot and characters. If you want to know more, go out and see for yourself.
It’s not a movie whose flaws can be totally forgiven in spite of its outstanding qualities. I didn’t mind the slow pacing because I just got lost in the beauty and wonder of the film, but it probably could’ve gone a bit faster. Nevertheless it at least didn’t get boring. Also some characters are more fleshed out than others and while the special effects are outstanding 99% of the time, there is that 1% that just doesn’t quite work.
Annihilation is a smart science fiction film that deserves to succeed at the box office. It’s definitely a movie that will leave you pondering what it all meant, especially the shocking last act. It isn’t a masterpiece like Blade Runner 2049 or Under the Skin, but it’s a damn good movie that can be viewed in the same light. I highly recommend you give it your money.