For whatever reason, Annihilation was a film that slipped completely under my radar. I have never read Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy upon which the film was based. To be honest, I hadn’t even seen the trailers or any promotional materials. I went into the theater this past weekend with no expectations. The only thing I knew before the lights dimmed was that Annihilation marks the second directorial effort from Alex Garland. Garland’s previous film, Ex Machina, was a highlight of 2014.
At the start of the film, a meteor crashes in a national park along the coast line. Soon afterwards, a mysterious glowing shimmer surrounds the site. As each day passes, the ‘Shimmer’ expands. Military expeditions into the ‘Shimmer’ have failed with no one returning. Dr. Centrists organizes a new expedition of female scientists to risk deciphering the ‘Shimmer’. The expedition includes physicist Josie Radek, paramedic Anya Thorensen, geologist Cass Sheppard, and biologist Lena. Once inside the ‘Shimmer’ the expedition members quickly learn that the laws of physics may no longer apply and that their chances of returning are slim.
An Original and Engaging Story
To say much more about Annihilation’s story would rob viewers of a completely immersive and fascinating experience.
To say much more about Annihilation’s story would rob viewers of a completely immersive experience. The movie is blessed with an original concept and some innovative approaches to cinematic storytelling. Director Alex Garland takes a non-linear slant on the material. For example, Garland bookends the movie with Lena’s interrogation. As such, we know Lena escapes the “Shimmer’, but the other characters’ fates remain a mystery.
In addition, Garland uses flashbacks sparingly, introducing us to Lena and her relationship with her husband, giving more context to the character and her decisions – her character is relatable and fully realized in no small part due to Portman’s excellent performance.
Director Alex Garland Expertly Navigates an Intricate Story
Like his debut film, Ex Machina, Garland approaches the material in Annihilation very methodically using deliberate pacing. This is a cerebral film that does not pander to audiences with expository dialogue or unnecessary quick edits; Annihilation requires patience. Audiences that are able to adjust to the slower pacing and challenging story will be rewarded as Garland’s approach makes suspenseful sequences so much more effective. There are several scenes where the violence shatters moments of quiet with little, making them all the more shocking. One scene in particular generates an incredible amount of suspense with Garland’s use of editing, shadows, and sound. Yet much of the film’s suspense isn’t generated by action or violence. Instead, audiences will be hooked with each piece of the puzzle uncovered by characters in the ‘Shimmer’.
Gripping Performances Complement an Engrossing Film
Simply put, Annihilation is a first-rate cinematic experience. It calls to mind other classic science-fiction films like Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey. All the other lead actresses in the film are given a chance to shine, turning in fantastic performances. It’s refreshing to see a science-fiction entry anchored by a cast of female performers; Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance will hopefully lead to a much-deserved career resurgence. While his role is small, Oscar Isaac reminds film-goers why he has a bright future. Annihilation’s climax is a trippy and thought-provoking experience. You’ll puzzle over its meaning long after the credits have finished rolling.
Instant Science Fiction Classic
Annihilation’s complex narrative and thoughtful approach may not be for all audiences. Nonetheless, I found Annihilation to be a thoroughly engaging cinematic experience. Simply put, it marks another win for the science fiction genre that has seen several stellar outings in the last few years. As for Alex Garland, the filmmaker continues to set himself apart as a director of the future with his second directorial effort.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A