By: BabyRuth (Two Beers) –
Annihilation is writer/director Alex Garland’s much-anticipated follow-up to 2014’s Ex Machina. The film, verrry loosely adapted from Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name, follows a team of five women on a mission into a mysterious and rapidly expanding territory nicknamed “The Shimmer” for its prismatic border. Strange and terrible things seem to happen inside the classified area, which makes sense since it’s in Florida. Several teams have gone in to investigate but none have ever come out.
That is, until Kane (Oscar Isaac), a special ops soldier on the most recent mission, suddenly returns home after a year without any contact.
His wife Lena (Natalie Portman) notices something isn’t quite right about Kane: he’s dead-eyed,has very little recollection of his time in the Shimmer, and answers nearly every question with “I don’t know.” And then he starts hemorrhaging.
He doesn’t dance either…
En route to the hospital, the ambulance is intercepted by the military and soon Lena learns more about the ultra-secret Shimmer expeditions. She decides she can be helpful in figuring out what is going on, being a biologist as well as former military, and volunteers for the next mission to go into the unknown along with fellow specialists: the team lead, psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a physicist (Tessa Thompson), a paramedic (Gina Rodriguez), and an anthropologist (Tuva Novotny).
And that is where I am going to stop with the plot description, because it is really one of those films that the less known going in, the better.
So to recap: We have a film based on a popular novel, adapted for the screen by an acclaimed director, starring a talented cast with an Oscar winner at its center. Sure sounds like a sure-fire hit!
But for whatever reason Annihilation seems as set up to fail its characters who embark on that “suicide mission.” There were reports that test audiences found it “too intellectual” (in response, I for one, would very much like to a see a Venn diagram of the people that made that comment and those who are fans of the 50 Shades movies). After Garland and executive producer Scott Rudin refused to budge and make the requested changes, a deal was struck to only release the film in theaters in the United States, Canada, and China, with Netflix then releasing the film less than a month later. It’s likely Paramount’s mother! debacle of 2017, also had a little something to do with their wanting to tread more lightly with another not-quite-mainstream release.
Oh yeah, then there was that whole [non]scandal regarding the ethnicity of Portman’s character. (In the subsequent books –which Garland had not read while writing the screenplay for Annihilation – the character is said to have Asian features.)
“What am I doing here? I’m not in this movie. Leave me out of this. God, I play ONE Chinese character…”
This film just couldn’t catch a break, and it’s a damn shame because it’s pretty freaking great.
This a gorgeous movie. Though not in the usual way…
Annihilation is visually stunning much like a beautiful dream that makes less and less sense as it goes on, eventually morphing into a horrifying nightmare. Everything has a look to it that it is just off. The set design is perfect, slowly revealing the otherworldliness of things that at first, seem normal. Color and light are thoughtfully utilized. The CGI is used inventively and for the most part, sparingly (save for the final act which is insane. And fantastic).
While there are a couple jump scares and a few genuinely scary sequences, much of what makes the film so terrifying are the quieter moments of dread and the unknown which produce a very uneasy feeling in the viewer. What I’m saying is, it’s creepy as shit.
And at times, it’s pretty gory too (be warned when the team finds and watches a videotape) and there are some disturbing visuals involving plants.
Sorry, wrong movie.
There we go.
The sound design is its own character as well, and I would suggest to anyone who is near a location to where the film is playing but still thinking about waiting for the Netflix release, to reconsider. Much like the visuals, this deserves to be experienced in a dark theater.
There isn’t a weak link in the cast, especially among the five women, who thoroughly commit to the material and deliver strong performances. And how great it is to see Jennifer Jason Leigh and as a main character, in a sci-fi no less?
Some viewers may come away from Annihilation frustrated as it never fully explains everything and leaves many things (most of all, the ending) open to interpretation, but this is part of what makes it so different from most releases in this genre in recent years. It challenges the audience and encourages conversations, debate, and theories. We don’t get very many of these kind of films often, at least not at the local multiplex (and sadly, will probably see fewer and fewer of them).
Some fans of novel may feel a little slighted as the film adaptation is very, very different. Many key elements are changed or omitted (including the “tower/tunnel” which is pretty much the focal point of the whole story) but I personally had no issues with it. In fact, I very much liked that Garland mixed it up by deviating from the original narrative, adding his own creative elements while still keeping true to the feel and tone of the book.
However, I really didn’t understand why there needed to be a subplot revolving around an extramarital affair shoehorned in. It didn’t anything to the story and was only visited twice and then just dropped. I suppose it could be explained to give motivation to a character, but again, it wasn’t needed.
Unconventional, unnerving, and an immersive experience that will have you thinking about it long after the credits roll, Annihilation is not your typical sci-fi/ action adventure popcorn flick (and thank god for that). Go see it in a theater while you still can (which means, like right NOW!).
Annihilation (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever a cell splitting in two is shown
Take a Drink: for every flashback
Take a Drink: for every title card mentioning a location
Take a Drink: at every mention of “The Shimmer”
Take a Drink: whenever the lighthouse is shown
Take a Drink: yeah, yeah, we get it. Padme and Poe
Do a Shot: when you hear the word “annihilation!”
Do a Shot (and try not to close your eyes): when the group finds a videotape of the previous mission and hits play
Pour another Beer: and find someone to discuss the ending with you. Repeat as needed