Annihilation – Review

Alex Garland may seem like a newcomer since he only gained fame for his filmmaking on 2014’s instant sci-fi classic, Ex Machina, though he’s been instrumental too modern sci-fi since the beginning of the new millennium with his writing. The artificial intelligence indie-thriller mentioned prior was his first effort into directing. He delivered well enough to give him free reign with a $55 million project based off a beloved Lovecraftian sci-fi novel by Jeff VanderMeer.

The one thing that’s undisputable about Garland’s sophomore directing try was his initiative; many of it’s the novels devoted fans feared that the book was so introspective, ambiguous, and labyrinthine that it seemed as though it wouldn’t translate to film appropriately. As one who’s only sampled the literature, I can’t speak for them, but fear that their skepticism may have been warranted. There are absolutely breathtaking bits of Annihilation, severe enough that if the movie was composed of nothing but them it would be one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time, but the astounding spectacles inopportunely helped stress the aspects that were merely adequate.

Annihilation tells the story of a biologist who, after her husband returns from an anomaly changed from who he was, decides to investigate for herself. While in there with four other scientists, the land, code-named Area X, proves that it’s not only dangerous but may not adhere to our laws of nature.

The film not only stars five women, but five incredible actresses who have not only proven themselves in films prior, but in their performances here. Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny, Gina Rodriguez, and Tessa Thompson make up the five women team with Oscar Issac, David Gyasi, and Benedict Wong playing support. The five leads are complex, the arcs they go through are original. Credit to each for not reacting as the audience wants or maybe as would be expected, but as what would be natural. It’s ironic that in such an unfamiliar world the characters feel so authentic and existent.

Notwithstanding of the fact that the film may not have been a complete and certain home-run in this critic’s eyes, I am still grossly enthusiastic to watch the voyage of the director and eager to see everything he’s attached too. His fingerprints are in every shot and though his ambition may have been a bit high, his direction with some of those irrational concepts were able to give them some sense of viability.

The script was my main source of disappointment, but at no point was I not marveling at what the man had presented before me; Terrence Malick couldn’t have produced a more stunning image. There are countless shots that could have been freeze framed, literally framed, and hung on my wall as a true masterpiece. As incredible as Blade Runner 2049, The Tree of Life, Moonlight, and Mad Max: Fury Road were I (maybe just still reacting from the high of it) think that it isn’t ludicrous to say that Annihilation may have them beat. Near the end there’s a shot that rests on what I can only describe as a colour vortex for an unusual amount of time and I mean no hyperbole when I say that it is unlike anything I have ever seen in my life, film or otherwise.

The creativity of the world within the Shimmer, and what inhabits it, are not only momentously creative but the way in which Garland introduced it, and them, was jarring to say the least. An incomplete sci-fi flick with great concepts and some near-perfect scenes would be a great way to summarize the film. For those who’ve seen the film, the hog/bear scene is one of the most tense and astonishing I may have seen in recent memory, and for those who’ve yet to see it, get ready.

Science fiction is all about bringing new ideas, concepts, and rules into an already established set of them. Learning those in the movie were compelling and interesting, but it didn’t go far enough. For the immense amount of questions the film poses it doesn’t care to answer nearly enough. I’m all for ambiguity, but ambiguity and vagueness don’t have the same definition nor affect; the script doesn’t pose a question and then refuse an answer, it creates a world and then refuses to elucidate.

“There are absolutely breathtaking bits of Annihilation, severe enough that if the movie was composed of nothing but them it would be one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time, but the astounding spectacles inopportunely helped stress the aspects that were merely adequate.”

Paramount sold the international distribution rights to Netflix, claiming that they think the film was “too intellectual” and “too complicated” for regular audiences, something I tend to agree with. I don’t need a film’s end to hand-feed me nor present all the answers in package with a pretty little bow, but I do need there to BE answers, and I don’t think there actually is. “It’s subjective to the viewer” is fine when discussing the meaning behind an event or concept, but not when trying to clarify how and/or why something happened.

The theatre isn’t solely meant to entertain us by blowing shit up and Ryan Gosling’s abs; it’s meant to make us think about things we may not have otherwise. I beg everyone to see this film, regardless of my score below. I may not have loved it, but I’m happy to have witnessed it. Last year I gave Mother! a 5/10, and then by the end of the year it was in contention of being in my Top Ten. I don’t see Annihilation having that same fate, but I know it will be a film that will stick with me longer and more profoundly than most I see this year.

Cinema 35 Rating: 6/10


Mark A. Silba

Mark is the founder and editor-in-chief at Cinema 35. He currently has his BA in Film and Media studies from Arizona State University. He currently lives in Gilbert, AZ where he spends most of his time seeing the latest theatrical releases.

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