Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac
Science fiction offers a medium to explore the fantastic, the extraordinary elements that compose advancements in tech, explorations into space, and numerous other insights that pose humanity against the unknown.
Director Alex Garland challenged the concept of humanity and artificial intelligence with the exceptional, one of the best films of 2014, “Ex Machina”. Mr. Garland returns to science fiction with the new film “Annihilation”, an astounding science fiction film that refuses to play toward expectations or succumb to easy explanations. It’s exactly what science fiction should be.
Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biologist who is mourning for her husband (Oscar Isaac), a military solider, who did not come home from his latest mission. Unexpectedly her husband returns, but he’s different. Before he can give any explanation for his disappearance he becomes extremely sick. While rushing to the hospital a group of government vehicles stop the ambulance and take Lena and her husband to an undisclosed location. When Lena awakens she is at facility, Area X, that is researching an unexpected event known as “The Shimmer”, a growing translucent bubble that has surrounded a small community with peculiar, deadly consequences.
Alex Garland has already, with just a few films, demonstrated his undeniable skill with crafting atmosphere. “Annihilation”, amidst some stunning and startling imagery and some beautiful landscapes, somehow creates an environment of that oozes with dread and menace. There is an uneasiness that is composed in nearly every frame, you can’t help but feel concerned for the group of women who have entered this chaotic, confusing world that is filled with mutated plants and animals. Garland deliberately paces the film with natural suspense, the world in the “The Shimmer” is alive and every place the women explore continues to prove more dangerous.
The narrative never tries to easily explain away the ideas it proposes, it’s thought provoking concept driven theories add an interesting depth to the script. Also surprising here is how the film handles the emotional connection between characters, it creates aspects concerned with love, loss, indifference, change, and evolution. It does this while fluctuating between the genres of horror, romance, and suspense. Mr. Garland understands that the science fiction genre can sometimes create the strongest metaphors for life; with “Annihilation” you can feel the heartfelt connections associated with disease, death, and the mourning process. The director knows exactly what he wants and how he can manipulate it to lead the viewer into different places.
The cast is a nice combination of female actors, however the film mostly belongs to Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Ms. Portman is the emotional core of the film, the character that continuously tries to find reason with what is going on around her. Portman’s performance grounds the film with a reality that keeps the heady material and intense imagery from becoming distracting. Ms. Leigh is the opposite, she is somewhat emotionless and cold towards the journey, operating purely for the reason of finding out what answer exists at the end.
The film is based on a trilogy of books from Jeff VanderMeer, however those passionate about the source material may be surprised with the direction Alex Garland takes with the story. Still, what he does with the film is craft a unique vision that never takes the easy route. “Annihilation” is beautiful, ingenious, horrific, and deeply heartfelt filmmaking, a science fiction film that embodies everything that the genre should be defined as.
4.50 out of 5.00