Annihilation - Review


Alex Garland's penchant for grand, sweeping sci-fi continues into 2018, with his second and most visually stunning feature, Annihilation. Don't pay attention to the basic trailers, this is not a run of the mill man vs. aliens science fiction film; no, this is something much weirder. 

Annihilation spends its initial moments launching us into the life of Lena, a professor at Johns Hopkins in Biology, who's husband has been missing for nearly a year. She is suddenly confronted by him while repainting her bedroom, to her shock, only to discover he is violently ill. The film then jumps to the threat at hand: A massive sheen, or "shimmer" as the film calls it, is spreading from a small lighthouse. Natalie Portman's character, along with a crew of four other women, are dispatched to collect data. From there, things get crazy, so I won't spoil any more. 

Dialogue is not Annihilation's strong suit, most apparent in the mercifully brief opening scenes, in which the team has not yet entered the shimmer. Portman's delivery, along with her dialogue, is especially odd, coming across even more forced than usual. The only character who benefits from this plain phrasing is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who's stoic Dr. Ventress injects the perfect amount of tension and mystery.

Where words fail, visuals take over; Annihilation is a gorgeous film, going above and beyond in the effects department to deliver something never done before. There is no visual style this could be compared to, and the blend of CGI and practical effects make for an even more seamless flow. The ending sequence in particular reminded me of the black hole scene in Interstellar, in that I could not remove my eyes from the screen for fear of losing the wonder of the moment. 

Annihilation asks big questions, but not the same kind that Ex Machina did; these are contained within the confines of the characters, with very few commentaries made on the real world. Things are left purposely open ended, opting for a piece-together-the-clues approach to solving the puzzle of the narrative. My standing theory is, that, as Natalie Portman's Lena describes the shimmer as creating something new, but not knowing what, she is describing the recreation of her marriage. Her husband left, and as we learn later, died in the shimmer, and she is presented with a new, different version of him at the end. In the final scene, when the two confront each other, he asks her "are you Lena?", begging the question, is she the same person who entered the shimmer? The film clearly wants us to think she is, as it continually calls back to a post-events interview with a science team over what happened in the shimmer with Lena, supposedly the real Lena. She is seen having an affair with another man through flashback while her husband is missing, so the significance of her being reunited with him at the conclusion cannot be ignored. Lena was not changed by the shimmer, as everyone else was, rather she was changed by what she did outside of it, therefore the shimmer giving her another chance with an alternate version of her husband fulfills its purpose. Okay, I'm done theorizing.

Annihilation is a fantastically confusing, beautiful, and terrifying film, that absorbs the watcher into its constantly changing universe. Performances are a bit across the board, and the dialogue settles for stating the obvious, but the splendid visual effects and creative story more than make up for those faults. Please, go see this one.