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Into the Shimmer: 'Annihilation' Review

I wrote on Epinions from 2000-14, as well as on Bubblews from 2013-15. Some work of mine has appeared in print in Gridiron Greats magazine.

'Annihilation,' movie poster.

'Annihilation,' movie poster.


Annihilation opens with a quarantined biologist named Lena (Natalie Portman) trying to answer questions for her scientific colleagues. Her soldier husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), had entered a mysterious area called the shimmer with other soldiers a year earlier, but only he returned. Shortly after his return, he became very ill, and Lena called for an ambulance. The ambulance then gets intercepted by military forces and directed to a secret base called Area X, where physicians can't seem to get a handle on an appropriate treatment to save Kane. While she can't explain much of what she's seen, she wants answers as much as her inquisitors.

The shimmer has grown since Kane's absence. Area X psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) meets with Lena and tells her about the mission that Kane and other teams of soldiers had taken to reach the lighthouse that held the source of the shimmer. Ventress has a change of plan to reach the lighthouse, using herself, Lena, and a team of scientists to get answers. The other team members include a physicist named Josie (Tessa Thompson), a paramedic named Anya (Gina Rodriguez), and a geologist named Cass (Tuva Novotny). While they find much plant life, they also encounter odd creatures that attack the team. They also discover footage of Kane's mission that reveals more oddities. The incidents play tricks with their minds, and sometimes with their lives, as they grow closer to the source.

An Evaluation of the Film

Annihilation shows itself to be a worthy follow-up to Ex Machina from scenarist and director Alex Garland, who adapted Jeff VanderMeer's novel to the big screen. The movie reminds me a bit of Predator, where beasts attack from out of nowhere. The difference between the two is that Annihilation has no action hero, though Lena has military experience, and they have come armed. Lena realizes the shimmer affects all living organisms as she sees deer that have turned white and have plant life growing from them. Garland, as he usually does as either a writer or director, focuses on the bleak and perilous situations, as he penned the screenplays for 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, and Never Let Me Go. As he did at the end of Ex Machina, Garland lets viewers wonder what will happen after the final shot. While Ex Machina was more tension-filled and compelling, Garland does present a potentially hopeless situation, and includes an eerie electronic score from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow.

Portman gives another solid performance as Lena, who doesn't have to be in the shimmer to be disoriented. She knows through Kane that entering it alters perceptions of time and direction, but she is determined to get to the source of the shimmer and eliminate it. Like her fellow team members, she has to fight the phantoms, creatures that seem to be hybrid, and a mysterious shape that tries to replicate her. Leigh, as Ventress, has determination for different reasons. The others soon learn why she is so driven as she makes the team move forward, even when it's not in their best interests. Isaac is good as Kane, the devoted husband who didn't necessarily return alone. Thompson, Rodriguez, and Novotny also do well in smaller roles.

The Movie: Watchable and Question Posing

There is an actual annihilation in Annihilation, but it may be a means to an end. Scores of people have tried to understand and combat the shimmer, but this force has shown itself to be almost unstoppable. Changes come, sometimes without notice. The force that Lena and her colleagues face seems to create something, but it's unclear if its changes will involve a great deal of outward aggression.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Annihilation three stars. Can change be stopped before everything changes?

Annihilation trailer