When I saw the trailers for Annihilation, there was no way I could know what a wonder of a movie I would be in for. Cold and cerebral, with lots of talky scenes, the movie’s title is a bit misleading. But the good news is that the new-ish film from the writer of 28 Days Later delivers…mostly.
Based on the Southern Reach trilogy of novels by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation is helmed by 28 Days Later writer Alex Garland. The film details the journey of a hand-picked team of women into the wilderness at the site of a UFO crash. A luminous shimmering bubble has arisen, enveloping the land surrounding a lighthouse. Every day, it draws ever nearer to a huge federally-operated work site that has popped up around it in order to study it.
Natalie Portman (Leon: The Professional, Phantom Menace) stars as Lena, army veteran and biologist called in to become part of the women-only expedition team. Her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, The Last Jedi), was part of the previous expedition team comprised of only men. Kane now lies comatose in an on-site hospital at the facility. Lena joins the expedition team because she “owes him” and because she wants answers about what happened to him.
It’s tough to tell if VanderMeer’s visionary sci-fi translates well to the screen. Having not read it myself, I’m not able to give my opinion. After hiring Lena, the first act of the film introduces us to the character of Jennifer Jason Leigh (Possessor, eXistenZ), Dr. Ventress, the haughty, self-important psychologist leading the expedition. And the rest of the team that Lena is hired with. Once the characters are acquainted with each other, the film is a couple of hours of a group of women traversing through the post-apocalyptic jungle under the Shimmer with automatic rifles. One by one, they fall prey to the horrors under the Shimmer. The film is about the journey, however. The group of women eventually learn all kinds of horrifying things about what happened to the last team.
The climax of Annihilation, without spoiling anything, is electrifying. However, I often wondered if the ending of the movie would have had more impact if the screenwriting of the script had allowed me to care more about the characters and their lives. 28 Days Later is Garland’s other great film of note, and I count it among one of my favorites. What I loved the most about 28 Days Later is the brilliant characterization and plot.
Now, with Annihilation, while the plot is intriguing, and draws me in, I found the cast of characters a little lacking. There was nothing that differentiated any one character for me from the others. Apart from Portman’s character, the understood loner of the group.
Natalie Portman’s performance in this film is at turns both chilling and lovely. This could be one of my favorites of her films, and I understand that she is an acquired taste. Still, killing the careers of Star Wars actors remains at an all-time high with this generation of Star Wars films. Some actors, like Hayden Christensen, with their careers nearly ending after Star Wars, go into architecture or something. Despite this, Natalie Portman has reigned victorious, making me think that perhaps she is the versatile Harrison Ford for this generation. It also made me think that Star Wars fans make their hobby into a bit of a gladitorial ring for actors’ careers. Are YOU not entertained by this woman? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8K9jAJ3Ong
Point blank, I’m glad this movie was marketed appropriately as a bit of a sleeper hit. There were two camps of people who saw this movie. The first camp was disappointed by the lack of thrills and excitement. They were waiting for more action sci-fi horror and were probably unimpressed with the number of times the women used their impressively-sized guns. And not overly concerned with or bearing in mind the psychological horrors that awaited the group of women in the shimmer.
The second camp of people
Of the two camps of people who saw this movie, I probably fell into the first camp. That being said, I still wouldn’t completely write off this movie. It’s definitely worth watching once, with stunning visuals and a slow burn to a head trip of a finish. There are many questions you will ask yourself after taking the time to watch a unique movie like Annihilation.