Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez
Directed and written for the screen by Alex Garland, Based on the novel ‘Annihilation’ (2014) by Jeff VanderMeer
IMDB Rating: 7.1 / Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87% (as of 07/04)
The story follows Lena (Portman), a biology professor and former US Marine who struggles to cope with the non-return of her Special Forces husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) from a secretive mission. Then, one day, he suddenly arrives back at their home, only to fall incredibly ill. Their ambulance is intercepted, and Lena and Kane are taken to Area X. A mysterious shimmer has begun to take over a large proportion of swamplands, and keeps expanding. The government cannot find anything out about it as anybody who enters never returns, except for Kane, the lone survivor from the last expedition who hasn’t spoke since he fell ill. With her husband bed-stricken, Lana decides to volunteer for the next expedition into the shimmer and searches for the mysterious horror lying behind it.
By the same filmmaker that gave us Ex-Machina, Annihilation’s story, while strikingly different in genre, shares similarities in its execution. Looking back, the film could have probably have been 20-odd minutes shorter, but by making it two hours long Garland delivers a film that is, like its predecessor, slow and methodical in its approach. The breaks give the audience time to ponder and analyse what is a very technical idea by a man with a deep history with sci-fi stories.
First of all, Annihilation’s story has to be one of the deepest, most ambitious and most successfully executed science fiction stories I’ve ever seen, certainly the best since Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The idea itself is a mind-blowing idea, and how on earth this must look in its original novel form I can’t even begin to comprehend, but the most impressive thing for me is its execution.
Despite its psychological themes, this films feels very much like a sci-fi-horror, and what an excellent horror it is. The truly terrifying moments are sparse, but are so effective among the psychological themes of the ‘world’ that its impact echoes throughout the whole film. Much of this is down to the contrasts drawn between the dangerous nature of the journey and the beauty that surrounds them throughout. It was something that, strangely, reminded me of the videogame The Last Of Us – the world in Annihilation is strikingly beautiful, and at the beginning this is seen through the characters, too. However, as the film develops and the nature of the world overwhelms the characters we are left both in awe and in fear of the beautiful flowers and shrubbery. This contrast is highlighted during the character’s time in the abandoned village, and particularly during the hostage-bull scene, which is the most outrageous, far-fetched and most perfect sci-fi-horror scene I’ve ever seen! I would urge people to watch the move just for that moment.
Natalie Portman was an inspired choice for the lead in this movie. I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie ‘starring Natalie Portman’, but she showed a fantastic range of skills during this movie, excelling in almost every moment. I was also particularly impressed with Gina Rodriguez – considering the last time I had seen her was as the star of Jane the Virgin, to see her ability to play a serious character in a horror movie while also being the star of that aforementioned scene was really impressive! Oscar Isaac delivers another solid performance, too. Following on from his starring role in Ex-Machina, Isaac’s role here is much smaller and simpler, but still feels like a really solid showing.
There’s not much I have left to say about the excellent work of Alex Garland. While this isn’t strictly his story, the execution of what I can only imagine is an extremely complex book is nearly faultless here. With excellent use of timelines and a fantastic touch when it comes to the drip-feeding of information to the audience, Annihilation really does feel like his film, done exactly as he wanted it, with no stone unturned. A fantastically ambitious story beautifully brought to the screen, delivering psychologically and in terms of pure sci-fi-horror. Annihilation is a fantastic sci-fi movie. I honestly don’t remember the last time I was so enthused by a live-action movie!