As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t usually a comment on their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little late to the party.
For me, one such film is Annihilation. As a lover of sci-fi and psychological horror, Annihilation seemed like a perfect watch for me. Despite it being recommended to me on numerous occasions, and being readily available on Netflix, I’d simply put off watching it for an embarrassing amount of time.
With a cast comprised of Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Oscar Isaac, Annihilation boasts a solid ensemble to bring the adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel to life. Opening with an expository scene vaguely detailing the fate of numerous as yet unknown characters, Annihilation sets its hook early. It then properly introduces Lena (Portman), a former soldier turned biologist whose husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), went MIA one year prior and is assumed dead.
When Kane inexplicably appears, his odd behavior belies the unorthodox mission he has returned from. After being taken with her unwell husband to the mysteriously named Area X, Lena is introduced to the “Shimmer”, a large quarantined zone that has swallowed numerous expeditions. After learning that Kane is the first person to emerge alive from the Shimmer, Lena volunteers to go in to investigate the zone.
Annihilation is an enthralling blend of visceral sci-fi horror and complex narrative themes. Its horrifyingly gorgeous visuals make for a one-of-a-kind experience, all furthered by an understated performance from Portman. The depth of its concept is enough to capture the imagination of the sci-fi fans in the audience, and the unsettling nature of its horror is persistently pervasive throughout Annihilation‘s runtime.
Annihilation also boasts a semi-happy ending that manages to be ambiguous enough to provoke more than a few unanswerable questions. It’s the sort of conclusion that would feel unsatisfying in a lesser film, but Portman and Isaac carry it off with significant conviction to make it work.
Visually, Annihilation is gorgeous. Inside the Shimmer, where life is mutating beyond all imagination, the film obviously becomes quite CGI-heavy. There are one or two moments where this is particularly noticeable, but it’s generally achieved convincingly and organically, with the mind-bending nature of the Shimmer lending an element of mystery that surpasses the visuals.
While Annihilation delivers one or two shocking revelations, these don’t come in the form of plot twists. As the film’s main characters are scientists and soldiers, its story is approached with the same cautious curiosity that its main characters embody, only allowing emotion to bleed through in critical moments. This makes Annihilation a rare symphony of style and substance, as its otherworldly visuals are somehow at once juxtaposed against and justified by its deeper themes.
It may have bombed at the box office, but Annihilation is a thought-provoking and engaging film. It allows its story and visuals to speak for themselves, with its cast delivering in a major way in order to sell the sci-fi horror.
Summary: A deeply beautiful and disturbing exploration of multiple simultaneous themes, Annihiliation is a strange and ambitious film. It delivers in almost every way, leaving just one or two burning questions that will eat away at its audience long after its credits have rolled.
Highlights: The beauty of the world inside the Shimmer is beautifully conceived and realized, as are the horrifying implications of its existence.