Based on the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation is the latest movie endeavor into the science fiction genre.
Starring Natalie Portman as Lena, she plays a biologist and former soldier whose military husband (Oscar Isaac) goes missing. Reappearing twelve months later as a shell of a man, Lena discovers that he embarked on a secret mission into a secret scientific anomaly known as the shimmer. Landing here from space only a few years back, the shimmer continues to grow in size and swallow everything it touches. Multiple expeditions into it have proven to be failures, with Lena’s husband being the only one to have ever returned. So, with her extensive knowledge of biology, Lena decides to join the latest expedition into the shimmer and hopefully find a way to heal her husband.
The fear of the unknown is one of the most visceral and scary feelings a human can encounter, and it’s something everyone deals with at some point. Some may even grapple with it on a day to day. And it’s this exact feeling that Annihilation portrays with such explicit and alluring detail. Our protagonists are thrust into a domain they, nor we, fully comprehend. Alone and isolated, the unsettling tone sets in for the audience very quickly, and never leaves. As soon as you start to feel like you’re grasping the complexities of the shimmer, something new is thrown into the mix that chills as well as intrigues.
With all this focus on isolation and the unknown, I’m automatically drawn to make comparisons to the film Alien (my favorite movie of all time). Some scenes were intentionally reminiscent of Alien, as I believe the writers must’ve taken inspiration from. And what a wonderful film to be influenced by, as Annihilation is nearly as effective in its pacing, build-up, and satisfying payoffs.
The cast of Annihilation matched the quality of filmmaking quite well. Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, and many others work to make Annihilation the provoking film it is. Each moment shared between the characters was strongly performed and executed, perfectly conveying their inner-burdens and the slow psychological decent they undergo.
The environment of the shimmer is, on a visual and artistic level, as diverse as it gets. We are first greeted to a dense, colorful forest that surrounds our disoriented protagonists. And as they trek further and further into uncertainty, the film flaunts its ability to increasingly delve deeper into imaginative content, especially at the stylistic and mesmerizing climax. A climax which gives very few concrete answers to the events depicted, leaving the audience to put the fragmented pieces together themselves.
Among all the well-developed and sometimes perplexing themes of self-destruction, what remains clear is how powerfully poignant Annihilation is. Director Alex Garland transports us to this seemingly horrifying world and not only shows the beautiful side of it, but by the end of the film makes us reevaluate are preconceptions about that world. We see the beauty, terror, and everything in-between that this world has to offer, which is the mark of a truly wonderful science fiction film.
There’s no way getting around it, Annihilation was one of the best theater experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking in. Everything from the guitar-laden soundtrack to the thought-provoking climax was perfectly orchestrated. All compiling into one big sci-fi/horror masterpiece. I loved Annihilation in all its visual and emotional beauty, and I will continue to ponder its meanings for some time.
The Verdict: A