I will already call it here, that this one will be divisive. Movies that give the audience more questions than answers typically get a mixed response. You will either love how abstract it is and enjoy the film as an art form or hate that you did not get everything that you wanted to have. Neither is wrong because we have our own preferences for movies. Personally, I loved Annihilation, and it blew my expectations out of the water.
Alex Garland has quite the experience in writing films such as 28 Days Later. In 2015 he wrote and debuted himself in the director’s chair with the brilliant Ex Machina. Seriously, if you missed it then go watch it as soon as possible. If you have seen it, then you know what to expect from his latest film in many ways. He is new to directing still but has the natural skill at it. Like any director, he has his style. This goes to show that future films of his will be similar in a lot of ways if these first two films are an indicator of anything.
Annihilation is based on the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer. I have never read or heard of these books, so I came into the film with no knowledge except for the fact this has Alex Garland directing and Natalie Portman is in it. Out of my research before the film, it is apparent that the source material is just as odd as the film.
The film takes place with a biologist named Lena (Natalie Portman) is grieving from her husband who never came back from a mission. One day he mysteriously appears but has some health issues. They are both taken on the way to hospital by a mysterious group of men who are suited up in a militarized gear. Lena wakes up and is told by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is a psychologist that there is something called The Shimmer. After getting briefed on everything, Lena joins up with the Dr. and a few other female scientists who all have different specialties go into The Shimmer. Their mission is to reach its origin and figure out what is going on before this thing grows and destroys the planet.
The mysterious gateway they call The Shimmer is interesting. The world around them is mutating. They are still on Earth, but it is changing rapidly. Not a lot of information is given to you in the film, especially the final act, but enough is provided to generate a general idea of what is happening. Not only that, but this film is beautiful. Once inside The Shimmer, the plant life is full of color. The CGI from the entrance of The Shimmer and other effects that it brings is stunning to look at, This is easily one of the prettiest movies of the year even if we are only in February.
The cast of characters is one of the significant issues. Not enough is given to flesh the characters out besides Lena. She is flawed but has a good heart and a brilliant mind. However, not much is given to her to make you care a whole lot. The other characters are even less fleshed out. Dr. Ventress is given no information until the last act of the film. Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) are all somewhat bland. There are some good moments between their interactions, but not enough is given to really care for them. A brief explanation of their background is given, but not much more. With how long the film is and drawn out, I feel like more could have been done. Then there is Kane (Oscar Isaac) who plays Lena’s husband. Flashbacks give a feeling about their relationship, but some pieces of that puzzle are missing. Some issues are brought up, but not entirely explained which ends up making their relationship more confusing and less meaningful. All of the actors do a good job, but not given enough to fully utilize their talents. It is an excellent idea for a main cast of females who are all very different in their careers, ethnicity, and even sexuality, but some things do not work. Seriously, it was odd to let a few scientists with assault rifles into The Shimmer where soldiers cannot make it out, but they are expected to potentially survive. Nothing that actually hurts the movie, but stuck out to me for being odd.
More mysterious things happen in the last act of the film where there is some explanation, but at the same time is kept vague that lets the audience decide depending on anyone’s own perception of what happened. Maybe a film will be made of the other two books to fully flesh this story out. I really hope so because I thought it was excellent despite its flaws.
Pacing, a few pointless flashbacks that did not go anywhere, and not entirely developed characters are the main issues to the film. Despite the flaws, it is beautiful to look at and has a fascinating premise. With more films that could be made then maybe this will make more sense and enjoyable to more people. Sadly, the film is bombing at the box office, so most likely we will never see a sequel. If you love mysterious movies and the sci-fi genre, then you might fall in love with this movie. Keep an open mind if you go see it. It is not for everyone. This will be one of those you hate it, or you love it kinds of movies.
Image via Paramount Pictures