This week I had the pleasure of seeing Annihilation, the second feature film of writer/director by Alex Garland. You might remember him from his directorial debut with Ex Machina (2013). Annihilation is a strange, emphatic, and nihilistic science fiction tale of horror, and seeing as I am an enormous fan of everything in that sentence it should come as no surprise that Garland’s latest film (in my opinion) is one hell of a cinematic experience! With that being said, Annihilation is NOT for all audiences. There’s more than a few scenes featuring gruesome granger that will undoubtedly stick in the nightmares of those who are faint of heart, and the narrative makes for many unanswered questions. I LOVE when movies leave themselves open to interpretation, but I know not everyone feels the same way so if you consider yourself squeamish and prefer your movies with clearcut conclusions then stay far away from this one. But if you enjoy “hard” science fiction stories that challenges the audience and is so ensanguined with Lovecraftian cosmic horror that the screen’s practically sporting tentacles then why are you still reading this review? GO SEE IT WHILE IT’S STILL IN THEATERS!!!
Now this is usually the part were I give a brief overview of the plot but in lies a dilemma; it’s nearly impossible to further discuss the plot of Annihilation without spoiling any key discovers or twists the film has in store for the viewer. Much of my enjoyment from watching Annihilation came from the various revelations presented throughout the film as they not only carried the plot forward but also made for some in-depth character development. I can say that Natalie Portman’s character is a soldier turned biologist who sets out on an expedition into an anomaly called, “The Shimmer,” with a team of fellow gun-totting female scientists. The mission of Portman’s platoon is to traverse the anomaly and figure out what it’s doing, how, and why. That’s all you’re going to get out of me if that sounds interesting then see the movie (or check out the book of the same name by Jeff Vandermeer).
There are many, many, MANY standalone aspects of Annihilation that’s worthy of appraisal, so let’s jump right into some. To start with, the visuals (once inside the Shimmer) are breathtaking. The film’s American bayou setting makes for many exterior set pieces that are so rich with organic life that’s just as tranquil as it is spine-chilling. It would seem that much of the art direction’s inspiration has blossomed from the microscopic/macroscopic world, specifically with regards to cellular mutations and necrosis, and it works to such great avail. The film also excels in its ability to craft new and unique elements of horror that I’ve never seen before (and this is coming from an individual whose prides himself on being a “horror junkie”). Apart from some top-notch creature designs and grotesquely satisfying gore, there are images and sequences that are so unique, vibrant and fear-inducing that they could double as modern art. Also, this film has one of the most unnerving soundtracks I’ve ever listened too for a big budget film of this caliber (and trust me, that’s a positive). I found Natalie Portman’s performance similar to how she carried herself in Black Swan (2010), in that she plays a complex individual with a truckload of emotional baggage, leaving little room for any smiles or joy. The rest of the cast perform their roles appropriately though it seems that everyone’s been taking notes from the Wes Anderson school for acting; where everyone talks and acts like their either tired or are in desperate need of a Prozac refill. Now I have no problem with movies whose entire cast compresses of depressed or droll characters so long as they have something interesting to do and say and they certainly do interesting things, I just wish the dialogue was given a similar treatment. Yes, despite all my gargling veneration for everything Annihilation does right, it cannot hold a candle to whichever patron saint is responsible for decent dialogue. That’s not to say that the film’s talking moments are all poorly written, it’s just that I found myself having a much better time watching the movie when it was utterly silent. There are a handful of eye-rolling character lines and a few moments where characters say things solely to inform the audience of what and when to pay attention. Fortunately, these moments are few and far between but stand out like a six-foot bas-relief sculpture of Baphomet at a Church bizarre. The color pallet for the first act is also pretty ugly, though I would guess that this was an intentional choice as it did make the environment within the Shimmer all the more eye-catching. Also, there aren’t any answers to the more prominent mysteries brought up in the film.
As a whole, Annihilation is one of those unique breeds of science fiction cinema; the kind that will undoubtedly amass a cult following some 10 or so years down the line for its originality and gallant leap into the abstract. It’s a mesmerizing modern take of the “through the looking glass,” kind of story where the physical (and biological) laws of reality are twisted, bent, and stretched so far that anything resembling the empirical becomes ethereal, and dreams become a reality. Annihilation is the kind of film that’s almost guaranteed to hold one’s attention from start to finish and leaves you feeling cinematically satisfied and cognitively enriched. If you’re a fan of hardcore science fiction, Lovecraftian horror, or just want to see something rich in creative liberties then go check out Annihilation while it’s still playing at the Regal Davis Stadium 5 on G St.
Ft. (left to right) Jennifer Jason Leigh, Natalie Portman, Tuva Novotny, Sonoya Mizuno, & Gina Rodriguez