ANNIHILATION Review: 10 (Beauty and Devastation)
ANNIHILATION is another recent film that puts the *science* back in science fiction. And for smart movie-goers, there aren't enough of these films being made. Written and directed by Alex Garland, based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. The film stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac. Garland also wrote and directed EX MACHINA which I really loved. Garland's previous work on projects like SUNSHINE, 28 DAYS LATER, and the terribly underseen but thoughtful film NEVER LET ME GO shows that he has a great talent for writing and working with smart science fiction projects.
The film opens with Lena (Natalie Portman), a cellular biologist and former soldier in the U.S. Army, discovers her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) in her house after he has been missing for over a year. Kane is also a soldier who was sent out on a classified mission months before but now confused as to how he arrived, has few memories of the time he has spent gone. Seeking answers, Lena ends up on an expedition into "The Shimmer" which is a strange phenomenon that has laid waste to an area in a national park after an object struck a lighthouse within the park, and the Shimmer began manifesting shortly after. "The Shimmer" is slowly growing and the area within carries many mysteries. Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is a psychologist and acts as the expeidition leader. Accompanying them are Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), a physicist; Cass Shepherd (Tuva Novotny), an anthropologist; and Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), a paramedic. The expedition's goal is to make their way into the Shimmer's region and access the lighthouse--at the center of the phenomenon--to discover its secrets.
ANNIHILATION stays true to its title as a fairly dark film filled with characters who have well defined edges. The visuals of this movie are impressively ambitious with echoes of Giger's work in ALIEN and Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The movie allows the audience to discover the mysteries it holds alongside the characters--making the experience of the film far more heightened. The resulting truths are beautiful and devastating. Filled with strong women, this film tells their stories without flinching--including loss, strength, love, and discovery. Garland continues to show his ambition as a director in this genre, creating a sci-fi horror film whose horrors lie as much in exploration as it does in the discovery.
ANNIHILATION is a fantastic film with a haunting score and some trippy visuals. Due to some test screeenings and concerns of the film being "too intellectual" Paramount offered this film a US release but also partnered with Netflix to release the film 17 days later in international distribution. Director Garland said this about the decision:
"The film is getting a theatrical release in the States, which I'm really pleased about. One of the big pluses of Netflix is that it goes out to a lot of people and you don't have that strange opening weekend thing where you're wondering if anyone is going to turn up and then if they don't, it vanishes from cinema screens in two weeks. So it's got pluses and minuses, but from my point of view and the collective of the people who made it – [it was made] to be seen on a big screen."
Here is hoping you see it as it was intended. Strongly recommended for those looking for smart films with strong women and great science fiction.