Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson
Synopsis: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don't apply.
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
MPAA Rating: R (for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality)
Release Date: February 23, 2018
"It's not destroying--it's making something new" says Lena (Natalie Portman), former US Army soldier and current cellular biologist. She's investigating the sudden appearance of the "shimmer"--an expanding electromagnetic field that will soon encapsulate heavily populated areas of land. Several military teams went into the mysterious field and none returned until recently when Lena's husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) made a sudden appearance at her doorstep, before collapsing and being rushed to the hospital. Since then, Lena has joined a team of four other women (a psychologist, physicist, geomorphologist, and paramedic) to go into the shimmer to discover its origin and purpose.
Annihilation--just like Alex Garland's directional debut Ex Machina (2014), thrives on the art of intrigue and mystery. The film rolls out information very slowly while still managing to keep strong interest in the characters and events as they unfold. Viewers will immediately sympathize with Lena as a woman who is desperately trying to find answers while the clock is ticking on her husband's life. Furthermore, we learn that each of the other women that enter into the shimmer have a troubled past, which further enhances viewers' interest in them and their goals.
Though not considered a horror film, Annihilation contains well-crafted scenes of science-fiction terror, with one scene evoking sequences of classics like Alien and Jurassic Park, where the creatures slowly approached the victims and fed off their fear. The interior of the shimmer itself is a separate world as plants, animals, and other living organisms have mutated, allowing for a clear distinction between the shimmer world and the normal world existing outside. Furthermore, guidance system failures and memory loss further isolate the group from the outside world, which makes the adventure all the more gripping, enthralling, and terrifying. Beyond these plot elements, the visual effects created for the shimmer are captivating in their own right, from the lava-like flowing wall to the CGI of the creatures and plant life. It's a world that, while at times frightening, yields an undeniable feeling of intrigue.
Annihilation, just like Ex Machina, is a cerebral film that has a philosophical agenda on the existence of humans in this world and our built-in nature to self-destruct--especially when something higher in intelligence or power comes into being. Are we actually the most intelligent beings? Or is there something grander out in the cosmos that has yet to arrive?
Annihilation offers a thoughtful story, beautiful imagery, and strong direction from Alex Garland, as well as strong performances from its cast, most notably Natalie Portman. It relies heavily on its mystery, but manages to keep intrigue and a solid pace for most of its run time--with only the climax of the film frustratingly a bit drawn out. Even then, the final minute of the film is worth the pay off, giving audiences a newfound feeling of intrigue and terror.