Annihilation Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
Annihilation is a freaky, yet hauntingly handsome tale about an alien invasion. Cleverly written and open to interpretation, it refuses to spoon-feed any answers.
Genre: Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, David Gyasi & Benedict Wong.
Run Time: 115 min.
US Release: 23 February 2018
UK Release: 12 March 2018 (Netflix)
German Release: 12 March 2018 (Netflix)
Alex Garland strikes again, with his second directed science fiction feature that sees a group of women examining a strange quarantined area that is slowly spreading. Garland managed to impress me back in 2015, with his debut sci-fi film Ex-Machina; a smart story about the creation of synthetic life. So when I saw the trailers in theatres late last year and early January, I was naturally excited to see what his next project would be like. Little did I know that Paramount sold the screening rights to Netflix, for the releases outside the U.S. meaning that the movie fell off my radar, as it wasn’t mentioned anymore online or in theatrical previews.
Annihilation is the adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name. While I haven’t read the books, I was told by a couple of friends who did read them that this feature has little in common with the novel, which left them very disappointed. I, on the other hand, find this to be a highly effective cerebral science fiction horror flick, with fantastic performances by the complete cast. It is a picture, however, that comes with a few “impurities”.
When Lena’s (Portman) husband (Isaac) inexplicably reappears after missing in action for over a year, she volunteers for a mission into an environmental disaster area, named the shimmer, to find some answers of her own to questions that are still open. But the shimmer, a bubble-like dome that is expanding exponentially, holds secrets of its own.
Annihilation is very cleverly written, offering a foundation for discussion with its interpretative narrative elements, long after the movie ends. The plot base of this sci-fi thriller explores the destructive aspect of human nature, specifically when driven by fear of the unknown. It also brings up interesting details about cellular biology, as well as the impossibility of crossing different species, while showing the audience fascinating facets of human psychology. This is a tale that is packed with thought-provoking subjects and theories while reminding me a lot of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in the way it is executed.
I am a big fan of cerebral science fiction, but a film can’t succeed if it simply relies on brainpower, neglecting the value of entertainment. This is the biggest flaw of this picture, as Garland tries to impress the viewer with the intellectual narrative while forgetting all about the amusement. This, in turn, causes for a disjointed plot with severe pacing issues. Now, I am not saying that this flick is not fun to watch because it has its riveting moments!
The story does not contain a lot of dialogue, as it relies on visuals storytelling in combination with the viewer’s own wits. The only information we obtain verbally is about the personas’ backgrounds and theoretical thoughts, which the characters interchange when facing weird mutations. It was refreshing to see a movie that expected the audience to think, instead of spoon-feeding every bit of information!
Talking about characters, the premise about a group of women who entering an “infected zone”, not because they have a personal agenda but out of curiosity to learn about the infection, was very enthralling. It is also worth noting that Garland, who also wrote the script to this adaptation, made sure that the women are perceived as people first, by revealing as little background as possible, with the exception of Portman’s leading role.
Natalie Portman does a phenomenal job of portraying Lena. She is the main character that the audience follow, as well as the only person in the team that has a personal reason to go into the shimmer. The development of her character is intriguing, as she starts out as a broken woman, grieving the disappearance of her husband. She conveys all these different emotions extremely well, by giving a credible performance. I was disappointed, nevertheless, by a small arc of her back-story that was left open without any conclusion.
Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Dr. Ventress, the leader of the expedition crew. Leigh portrays her character magnificently; a quirky, lonely woman that seemingly has no private life. I wasn’t sure about Leigh’s rendition at first, she seems emotionally distant and cold but once some of her background is revealed, her reserved characteristics start making sense. Dr. Ventress is a strong woman who uses logic before succumbing to her emotions.
Oscar Isaac’s screen time is very limited but I was impressed with the couple of scenes he is in. He plays a very complex character, with two different faces. Kane is married to Lena, as well as being part of the previous expedition crew.
The cinematography is a highly important facet of this film, due to intense use of visual storytelling. From the moment the group enters the shimmer, the narrative looks and feels like a dream; a metaphor that was used as well by one of the characters. DoP Rob Hardy created a gorgeously looking movie with beautiful panoramic shots, as well as thrilling close-ups. The picture looks a little desaturated at the beginning but explodes with vibrant colours once the women enter the affected area and it includes great looking effects.
The music, composed by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, is also a vital part of the plot. It reflects not only the horror aspects with tension induced, synthesised bass sounds but also mirrors the mood of the group of women.
Verdict: Alex Garland is a tremendously talented writer and director, who proves his aptitude once again with Annihilation; a fascinating sci-fi tale with exploding visuals. The narrative is extremely intriguing and will require multiple viewings, as there is a deeper message underneath all the science fiction and horror elements. That said, this flick does suffer from severe pacing issues, especially around the beginning. There are also side-plots that are left with no conclusion, which can be frustrating. The execution, the collective renditions of the cast and the atmosphere, however, are all captivating and beautiful to watch. Natalie Portman knocks it out of the park, giving a very emotional performance. Oscar Isaac, who is not often on screen, is as always great. The best part of the movie, though, is the cinematography, with its handsome effects! I will give Annihilation an 8.5 out of 10.
I can only recommend going to see this cerebral sci-fi horror film. It is currently on Netflix, so please, if you are a fan of thought-provoking motion pictures, give this a try! Thank you for reading and if you liked the review, please subscribe.