Directed by Alex Garland
Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac
Biology professor Lena (Portman) is being questioned in an isolation lab. She recounts how she had been waiting a year for word of her soldier husband, Kane (Isaac), when he turned up almost literally out of the blue and then collapsed. She was abducted by government agents and delivered to a military operation called Southern Reach, studying a phenomenon called the Shimmer, a mysterious field covering an increasingly large area of the South.
After meeting a group of women – paramedic Thorensen (Rodriguez), physics prodigy Radek (Thompson) and geologist Sheppard (Novotny) – who are due to head into the Shimmer under the command of psychologist Ventress (Leigh), Lena volunteers to accompany them, in the hopes of learning something that will help Kane, since she ‘owes him.’
As they move through the Shimmer, their equipment plays up and they start to lose time. They are attacked by a mutant alligator, then discover footage of Kane cutting open the stomach of one of his comrades to reveal what seems to be a mass of writhing worms or tentacles under the skin. Then Cass is taken by a mutant bear that appears to steal her voice, and Thorensen flips out on discovering that Kane is Lena’s husband. Ventress storms on ahead to the lighthouse at the centre of the shimmer and Radek wanders off to turn into a plant, leaving Lena to face the being at the heart of it all alone.
What’s wrong with it?
Annihilation is very much built to be seen on the big screen, and then it didn’t get a release; at least not in the UK. Not the filmmakers’ fault, but it bites a bit.
The science is pure hooey. Thompson does her best with talk of refraction, but with the best will in the world, DNA isn’t made of photons.
What’s right with it?
The film has a palpable sense of weirdness and menace, helped considerably by the unsettling score.
The bear is also creepy AF.
The cast is very strong, and it’s refreshing to see a film leaning so heavily on an ensemble cast predominantly composed of women. The cast is also ethnically diverse, with two white women at the core, but I think literally no white men in any kind of speaking role.
Although less striking than it would have been in the cinema, the visuals, and the otherworldly feeling of the Shimmer are still gorgeous and unsettling; like the Sanctuary in Snow White and the Huntsman, if created with an awareness of how horrific the place is.
How bad is it really?
Annihilation is a film that got done wrong by being relegated to a Netflix release outside of the US. I can see that it is a film that would be hard to market, but I really hope that the decision – which presumably must have been made ahead of its poor opening in the States – had nothing to do with the studio getting cold feet about a female-led sci-fi psychological horror. While it does not shine to full effect on the small screen, it is still a tense, suspenseful movie, and while not for every palate, well worth a look if it feels like it might be your thing.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Like the best thrillers, Annihilation works through a constant ramping of tension, and as such doesn’t have a single standout scene. The most iconic moment is probably either one where three of the team have been tied up by another and are menaced by the scream-bear, or one where a duplicate of Lena is mirroring her every move.
What’s up with…?
- The refraction of DNA?
Production values – It’s a crying shame that this film didn’t make it to the cinema in this country. The visual design and effects are superb; enchanting or horrific as they need to be. 3
Dialogue and performances – The technobabble is a bit iffy, but otherwise the script is decent and the performances excellent. 6
Plot and execution – The plot is simple, and primarily serves as a vehicle for the ebb and flow of suspense, which is expertly handled. 4
Randomness – Again, refracted DNA. 8
Waste of potential – I don’t know the source material, but as a film on its own, Annihilation meets the expectations I had from the early trailers. 3