Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).
Following the arrival of his directorial debut Ex Machina in 2015, Alex Garland found himself on plenty of people’s radars as a stunning visualist and a true visionary. Three years later we finally get his follow-up, and though Annihilation doesn’t quite rise to the level of its predecessor, it’s no less mesmerizing and beautiful, and confounding.
Based (in the loosest way possible) on the first book of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation is science fiction at its core, but like 2016’s Arrival, it transcends genre to become a mind-bending head trip that will leave you with far more questions than answers. But in a good way.
Natalie Portman stars as Lena, an ex-Army biologist who lost her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) a year ago; he never returned from a classified mission. When he mysteriously reappears, though, with no memory of where he was or how he got home, she gets pulled into the vortex of The Shimmer—a chunk of land bounded by a fluid, rainbow-colored wall, from which no one has ever returned. Until Kane did; that was his mission.
Lena joins a mini-platoon of four other women, led by the mysterious Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to explore The Shimmer to find answers. Once inside they discover all kinds of nutso flora and fauna, including an alligator with shark teeth, mixed-species flowers growing on the same vine, and deer with branches for antlers. And from there it only gets more weird.
Garland, to be sure, took plenty of liberties with VanderMeer’s book, and die-hard fans may find themselves either scratching their heads or frustrated (or both), but there’s no denying Garland’s prowess behind the lens. Feeling a bit like the horrific bastard child of Arrival and Avatar, Annihilation is equal measures terrifying and wondrous. Not quite a horror movie, but filled with a handful of white-knuckle scenes, it’s a film that belies description, both in terms of plot and, frankly, genre. Only Garland’s vision and Portman’s astounding talent remain constant throughout.
Cinematographer Rob Hardy, production designer Mark Digby, and composers Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury (all of whom also worked with Garland on Ex Machina) elevate Annihilation even further, providing just the right level of uneasiness to prevent you from ever quite relaxing. It’s a bit like looking at a surrealist painting; there’s something a little uncomfortable about it, but you can’t help getting hooked into it as you try to figure out what the heck is going on.
The film suffers a fraction from a prolonged and borderline-hokey conclusion, but it’s not enough to erase everything that came before it. There’s plenty to marvel at and get freaked out by, and Annihilation will certainly leave you guessing, but there’s one question that does get a definitive answer—and that’s whether Alex Garland would be able to successfully follow Ex Machina. Indeed he did.
Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on June 06, 2018:
Interesting review. I rarely have the time to see a movie these days, and they're aren't many good ones out there. But this was just a fascinating film. My take is perhaps a bit different than others, as I wasn't left with more questions with the final scene. I thought that what transpired inside the shimmer made perfect sense in terms of the film as a metaphor.
For example, if we look at what humanity has done to our earth during our short time span on this planet. We poison our own life support systems and quash environmental resources. Yet too many of us don't "see" what we are doing or the effects of our actions or inaction.
We cut living trees to build houses, cut flowers for decorations -- similar to the way in which the creative entity infuses human life forms with trees and flowers as decorative statues on the lawns inside the shimmer.
I loved Jennifer Jason Leigh's line, "I don't know what it wants, or if it wants." Watching the creative entity "at play" was rather like imagining a toddler using an immense creative force to rearrange toys or items in ways the toddler does not yet understand and are "wrong," not having had teaching or our blueprint of the "right way" in which all things belong and relate to each other in the human world.
Within the refraction of the shimmer, human skeletons are spread out on the sand in front of the lighthouse. There is purpose to this juxtaposition of skull and bone remnants as some kind of symbolic, creative art form. Rather like the way humans mount the heads of dead creatures on their walls, take tusks of the of the creatures they have killed to make jewelry, etc.
Bears and other animals are hunted and killed in our world. The screaming bear from the shimmer echoes the death knell of the woman it has killed. Is it more horrific than the sound of the screaming bear as it is dying in our own reality? Of course it is. Because we only relate to the woman's terror and suffering -- not the bear's.
It all depends on one's perspective.
And all is rearranged within the shimmer until the original design of the biological creation -- as humanity knows it -- is destroyed and/or redesigned into something else. Much like this planet is evolving into something else entirely from where it began since man began to influence the natural environment -- the very part of ourselves and the very thing we need to ensure our own survival. The irony is that the deconstruction-reconstruction of the environment is symbolic of, or a metaphor for, the destruction of man.
Only one thing remains, and we see this in the final scene as the shimmer flickers in the eyes of Lena and her husband. (It makes no difference if they are the originals or the clones.) The deadening of the eyes represents the death of human love. Annihilation is so apropos with regard to the title of this haunting film -- the epitaph of man's own self-destruction.
This brilliant film is a must-see for everyone.
My apologies for such a long post.