More recently, science-fiction thrillers have revolved around common themes: space, the future, or a virtual world. “Annihilation” does not take that route at all. Although there are no real markers to show that it takes place in any time period, it is easy to infer that it takes place within the decade. Just this alone sets the film apart from many other fantasy and sci-fi thrillers of today. While having its flaws, “Annihilation”, written and directed by Alex Garland and adopted from Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name, is a new take on how sci-fi movies should be made in its own weird, ambitious and visually stunning way.
The story jumps between two settings: the main storyline taking place over a period of 4 months, and the main character, Lena who is portrayed by Natalie Portman, in isolation being questioned by a scientist. The main storyline begins when a meteor carrying some alien material or lifeform crashes into a lighthouse and starts emanating a “shimmer,” as they call it in the movie, that changes everything in its perimeter. The area it affects begins expanding until 3 years later where the story begins.
We learn that Lena’s husband, Kane as played by Oscar Isaac, has been missing for a year when he suddenly shows up at Lena’s home and falls into a coma. As Lena and Kane are on their way to the hospital they are intercepted by a small militia and taken to a facility near the edge of the “shimmer.” She learns that Kane had been missing within the “shimmer” for the past year. After years of teams going inside, no one except Kane has come out. Lena volunteers to go with a group of female scientists inside the “shimmer” to find what has been going on.
The first thing that jumps out about in this film is the visuals. If you thought “Doctor Strange’s” visuals were stunning, this sets another bar. While “Doctor Strange” had some more intricate and large-scale visuals mostly done by CGI, “Annihilation’s” visuals were beautiful. Most of the props and scenes were made by people instead of by a computer. Everything from people-shaped topiaries to large glass trees on a beach were executed in such a way that makes the viewer say, “Wow.” However, “Annihilation” is not for the faint of heart. Some of the scenes could leave a person feeling uncomfortable as there are some intensely graphic and gory visuals.
An element of “Annihilation” that stands out is the cast. Natalie Portman gives a performance that compliments the ominous tone of the movie. Lena is quirky, has strong opinions and easily takes charge when she needs to. Isaac and Portman have a chemistry that defines both of their characters. Isaac is a soldier first, following orders even when he knows it could lead to his death. Lena’s other team members include Dr. Ventress portrayed by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anya Thorensen played by Gina Rodriguez, Josie Radek played by Tessa Thompson and Cass Shepard played by Tuva Novotny. Dr. Ventress is a leader first and foremost, with a very serious attitude and continues on, even if recklessly doing so. Thorensen is a tough girl, or at least she acts like she is, and Rodriguez plays this out perfectly. Radek is shy and kept to herself most of the time. Shepard is a sweet girl, trying to find the optimistic approach with the group.
The movie is set up so that it switches back and forth between the main story mission, to flashbacks before and after Kane left and to the questioning of Lena, and these happened so often that it became frustrating. Another problem with the movie is that the ending is a complete mystery throughout the entire movie. You have no idea what they are going to find at the end until it is reached. There are barely any clues as to why or how changes are happening. However, both of these gripes are minimal compared to how well paced the movie is and the feeling that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
“Annihilation” is a very ambitious movie in how it tackles the concepts within itself. The cast has great chemistry with each other and I still cannot get over how amazing the visuals are. If there is one thriller to see this year so far, it is “Annihilation”. This movie gets a solid A-.
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