“Annihilation” is written and directed by Alex Garland and it stars Natalie Portman as a biologist who is shocked to find out that her husband, played by Oscar Issac has reappeared after vanishing for over a year. Her husband has no memories of where he went, but she soon finds out that he had ventured into a place called “The Shimmer”, an area that’s the result of an object striking Earth some time ago. Now Portman and a group of scientists plan an expedition into the Shimmer so as to find out what it truly is and what awaits anyone who enters.
The main reason that I was excited to see this movie was the director. Alex Garland’s previous film, “Ex Machina” was a truly original, engaging sci-fi film that genuinely had its own unique take on the concept of artificial intelligence and the line that divides humanity and technology. When I saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it looked like Garland was again tackling larger-than-life ideas and based off of all the reports of this movie apparently being “too smart” for test audiences, it sounded like Garland was delivering on making a legitimately well made, original movie that would make us think about concepts that are well beyond what we’re use to. And now after seeing the movie, I can say that for my money, it was a hit and miss film.
The one aspect of this movie that everyone is going to praise is its overall look. The visual aesthetic in this movie is great to look at and I think the strength lies in how unique it is. The Shimmer as it is looks like an interesting cross between a post-apocalyptic Earth and a prehistoric Earth. Those two may sound contradictory, but you have to see the film to really understand where I’m coming from. Then there are some times when the movie just straight up feels like it’s one of the layers of Hell. It’s a beautiful looking film that has a very eerie, but also melancholic atmosphere to it.
This movie is also a think-piece and like with “Ex Machina”, it dares to ask some big questions and make you question certain concepts. Not to spoil anything, but it delves into stuff like consciousness and genetics and in some areas, it really gets you thinking. A lot of the questions asked are really thought-provoking and to this very second, I’m still thinking about some of the ideas that this movie brings up.
This movie also has some really intense, creepy scenes that play into it being more than just a straightforward science-fiction film. Parts of this movie feel like a straight horror film and I’d be lying if I wasn’t on the edge of my seat in some scenes. There are some things in the Shimmer that are just plain terrifying to look at and I can’t even fathom having to deal with the stuff that these characters do. It’s in these scenes where I think that Garland can nail a multitude of genres.
That said, this movie does have some flaws that need to be addressed. For one, I think that this movie’s screenplay starts to go into overreach in its third act. Some of the ideas and character arcs that are set up in the movie are never addressed at all and it all seems to be for the sake of the film deviating into a whole new path once the third act begins. Again, this is a movie that’s difficult to critique without spoiling, so I’ll just say that the end of the movie comes off as very preachy with its message, a message that just comes out of nowhere and feels underwhelming in the long run.
I also have to say that I only ever cared for Natalie Portman, at least in terms of the characters on screen. The other characters, portrayed by the likes of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tessa Thompson, are functional in the sense that they’re on this expedition, but that’s really it. Some arcs and relationships are hinted at but like I already said, they’re dropped completely by the end of the movie and they feel unfinished as characters. The paranoia starts to creep in at a moment in the movie, but I honestly couldn’t feel what the characters were feeling seeing as I how only saw them as empty vessels to support Natalie Portman.
Overall, “Annihilation” is an ambitious film that asks big questions, some that are genuinely interesting, but then there are others that feel forced and borrowed from other movies. The characterization is weak in the supporting characters, the third act is a mess, but I still think it’s a well acted film that looks great and has its mix of thought-provoking themes and downright haunting sequences. For what it’s worth, I think this movie is worth checking out, purely because I think that reactions to it will be wildly mixed. I could very well one of those people who simply didn’t understand the movie because it’s “too smart” and I can imagine that some people will love this movie for what it does. Me personally, I think this is a good movie that’s still flawed in the execution of a unique concept.