Annihilation is the follow-up from novelist, turned screenwriter, turned director, Alex Garland, after Ex-Machina (2014). It is a very unsettling film that follows the story of a biologist ([played by Natalie Portman), as she and a group of others scientists explore a environmental disaster area while she searches for her husband (played by Oscar Isaac), who went missing at the site. Full of tension, intriguing sci-fi ideas, and a sense of real dread, Annihilation, is great “thinking man” science-fiction.
As the film opens, Lena (Portman) is undergoing quarantine debriefing with an agent named Lomax. Much of the story is told in flashback, as we learn about Lena’s experience in the shimmer, a liquid type “otherworld” created from what appears to be a meteor that struck a lighthouse. The shimmer instantly has the feel of a portal to another more dangerous world, and that’s what it turns out to be. There’s a real sense of terror to this film. It’s like watching a horror movie where a crew (Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny) slowly go insane as they are killed off one by one.
All of the actresses play their parts well. Portman is good as the reluctant, curious scientist who has perhaps seen one too many weird things. Oscar Isaac, in a smaller role, is also good as Lena’s missing husband, who appears in flashbacks and video recordings (warning for those with weak stomachs, there are a lot of scenes that may make you queasy). The rest of the crew is also good, as we see them discover the inside of the shimmer. In particular, I’d especially like to note Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance as the seasoned Dr. Ventress, a psychologist, who throughout the course of the film goes absolutely insane. Watching her transformation playout is something to behold.
The movie looks nice, and while the shimmer is obviously CGI (computer generated imagery), it does have a transformative feel to it, as it resembles a natural setting, complete with dangerous animals. The score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, much like their work on Ex-Machina, is very synthesizer heavy with a sense of doom, and features a solo guitar. The music stands out near the end of the film, as it helps to push the tension. If there’s any complaints I have about the film, it’s that there’s a minor subplot involving Lena’s affair with a co-worker named Daniel that never really goes anywhere, and feels unnecessary in the long-run.
Annihilation is a smart sci-fi film. Even after watching the film, I was still thinking it over. It’s not a movie for those who prefer their sci-fi to be more action-packed (though it does have its moments), but it is an interesting film that features strong themes and messages. If there’s any film that deserves to do be watch more than once this year, and examined, so far, it’s this one.
Now playing in Hanover at The Nugget Theater
Monday Through Thursday at 4:10, and 6:40, Friday at 4:10, 6:40, 9:10, and Saturday and Sunday at 1:40, 4:10, 6:40, and 9:10.