After her husband returns home — a year after he went missing — a former army officer now biology professor signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.
Director: Alex Garland
Producer: DNA Films, Paramount Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions
Screenplay: Alex Garland, based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer
Release Date: February 23, 2018
Rating: R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality
- Natalie Portman
- Oscar Isaac
- Jennifer Jason Leigh
- Gina Rodriguez
- Tuva Novotny
- Tessa Thompson
Summary for Annihilation
Based on the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, Annihilation opens with Lena (Natalie Portman – Princess Amidala from the Star Wars prequels) still mourning the loss of her husband who disappeared a year ago. Suddenly, he shows up and then gets very ill. As she’s rushing him to the hospital, the ambulance is ambushed by the military. Lena soon discovers a mysterious “Shimmer” has taken over a good portion of a National park and her husband is the only person who has returned after entering. She joins a scientific mission comprised of her and four other women who will collect samples and hopefully discover what happened to previous missions. Things just get weirder from there.
What Worked for Me
There are several points where I think this film worked really well.
Natalie Portman portrays Lena as both frail and strong. Lena is determined and yet has faults that sometimes get in her way. Portman’s lean frame accentuates Lena’s frailty, while where strong acting chops give the character solid grounding and believable courage.
Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok) plays physicist Josie Radek, who has attempted to commit suicide in the past. In Thor: Ragnarok she was a kick-butt warrior, but in Annihilation, she is a more gentle soul who’s energy is soft and inward focused. Her “death” in this movie was very much in alignment with her character.
Rounding out the cast are Jennifer Jason Leigh (who seemed to be everywhere in the 1980s and whose genre credits include The Hitcher, Dolores Claiborne and Amityville: The Awakening) as Dr. Ventress leading the expedition, Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) as Anya Thorensen, and Tuva Novotny (The Invisible) as Cass Sheppard.
Incredible Set Design
Once inside the “Shimmer,” the world is both familiar and strange. The most haunting images for me were the plants growing in the shapes of people walking or standing. Very creepy.
Original music was composed by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, who worked with the director, Alex Garland, on Ex Machina (2015, another interesting film BTW). It set the mood and enhanced the emotional ambiance of the film. This was mixed in with songs from a variety of artists, including Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Like the set design, this mix of music was both familiar and strange.
What Didn’t Work for Me
I thought the design of the bear was a little less strange than it could have been. At first, I thought it was a wolf. It wasn’t until we saw it a second time that it looked more bear-like.
I’ve heard that a lot of people have left this film saying that the ending blew their minds. I’m not sure to what they are referring. The film had so much that felt familiar: An atmosphere reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, an ending that predictably suggests its sequel and an almost formulaic approach to killing off the players. I’m guessing that people whose minds were blown don’t have a lot of filmic and literary experience to fall back on.
The film was marketed as a science fiction film, which is, however it is also a horror film. I wasn’t prepared for that and would have liked to know that in advance.
This is a strange film that left me unsettled and somewhat confused as I left the theatre. I’m glad I saw it. As this is the second film I’ve seen by Garland, I’m starting to get a feel for his signature style. Ex Machina had a very similar feel of the strange mixed with the familiar. That said, I don’t feel the need to add it to my DVD collection. So what’s the bottom line conclusion? I’m not sure: I think it’s worth seeing, but be prepared to not be ecstatic about the experience afterward. It really depends on your personality and experience with this genre of film.