Film Review – Annihilation
The craziest and weirdest film so far of 2018 is Annihilation. The trailer gave off major Arrival vibes, but as the end credits roll, it is a film that will have the audience in major debates about what it is they just saw.
Annihilation follows the story of Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist at John Hopkins and a former Army soldier. She is dealing with her military husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), being gone for over a year with very little information as to where he is and if he is even still alive. Shockingly, he walks back into their house, or we assume it is Kane. He does not know much about how he came to be at the house, and he soon falls ill. Swooped up by government officers on the way to the hospital, Lena and Kane are taken to Area X, the compound outside the Shimmer. Learning that her husband came back from the Shimmer (the only person who ever has) and is not going to make it, Lena volunteers to enter the Shimmer with another team of women. Led by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Lena is joined by former paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez) and scientists Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) and Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson).
There is no question that the Shimmer is created by something from space, as its source came hurling into Earth hitting a lighthouse and growing from there. The question is what is it, why does it keep expanding, what’s inside, and what is the Shimmer’s purpose?
It is apparent that Shimmer changes the biological makeup of everything inside of it. It also affects the passing of time, as the very first scene of the film has Lomax (Benedict Wong) explaining to Lena that she has been gone for four months, while she thinks it has only been a couple of weeks. The team encounters plants and animals that have mutated to something that cannot be explained by known science. While the flowers may be pretty, the animals have turned into something deadlier giving the team something else to worry about in their explorations.
There are scenes that will categorize Annihilation as having elements of a horror film. The ingenuity of taking a mutated bear and placing something horrific on top of its ghastly appearance is one for nightmares. Add to that what happens to some of the humans that enter the Shimmer. I am convinced that director/writer Alex Garland (Ex Machina) or production designer Mark Digby have watched NBC’s Hannibal as the Shimmer team finds the remnants of a soldier in a drained swimming pool.
Other than the Shimmer itself, there is no hint of anything alien in this world until the source is reached. It is in this climax that the puzzle of Kane is revealed, a sacrifice is made, and there is a fight to survive what has created the Shimmer. It is in these scenes that everything becomes confusing, and what the audience thought they knew becomes distorted. I believe I had my mouth agape through a large portion of these scenes. Any sense of reaching a satisfying conclusion is discarded as these crazy scenes unfold.
The final scenes of Annihilation do nothing to resolve any of the questions left from the climax. If anything, they add to the question and recall Andrew Niccol’s The Host. I had high hopes for the experience of watching Annihilation, and those hopes were met. The film is an adaptation of the book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer and is the first in a trilogy. If Annihilation does well, this opens the doors for the other books to be adapted as well. Perhaps Garland never intends to adapt the others, leaving the audience with a quizzical look on our faces and discussions with peers about what exactly they just watched. If a film can spurn discussions that will last for days and theories to be developed (assumingly by non-readers), the film can be seen as a success. Not many films will have you talking about its content and googling what it all means. This film may also be enjoyed by adding some pharmaceutical assistance because I am convinced someone was on drugs when they thought it all up.
Summing it all up, Annihilation is weird. Don’t expect to compare the experience of seeing it with anything else.