Annihilation is based loosely on the book of the same name and is the second film directed by Alex Garland. The “Shimmer” has been slowly growing across an area of land from the origin point of a lighthouse on a beach. Over the past two years, team after team have gone in and no one has returned or even been able to send messages out. That is until Cane (Oscar Isaac) mysteriously shows up home to his wife Lena (Natalie Portman) after a year of being presumed dead by her. He was part of the most recent mission into the Shimmer and returns devoid of memory or personality. Immediately he goes into complete organ failure and is taken by government agents. Seeking answers, Lena volunteers herself for the next mission.
Lena is a former Army veteran and current Johns Hopkins Biology, professor. There has been strain and secrecy recently in her marriage, for which she blames herself, and she takes on the suicide mission as a form of atonement and to save her husband. The rest of the team is rounded out by an incredible all-female cast. Each of their characters has a reason for which they sign up for what may be their deaths. The government leader of the team Dr. Ventress, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is a monotone psychologist. She is tired of vetting and signing others up for a mission she knows nothing about and decides to go in herself this time. Gina Rodriguez’s Anya is a paramedic and the liveliest of the bunch, she is the glue that holds the thin friendships of the group together. The other scientist of the bunch Josie, played by Tessa Thompson, is very quiet and hinted at possibly being suicidal. Tuva Novotny plays Cass, an anthropologist, who forms an early bond with Lena and helps her understand the others.
Once they pass through the initial veil of the Shimmer, things seem eerily normal. The only sign of abnormality is alien flowers of various species all growing from the same roots. The alien effect of the quarantined area is mirroring and melding the DNA of various life forms. An extra large, albino crocodile with the teeth of a shark makes its’ appearance at the team’s first campsite. The team themselves witness changes to their own bodies, such as fingerprints swirling and changing (and other grotesque examples). There are moments that would make 2001: A Space Odyssey fans wide-eyed and Full Metal Alchemist fans shudder. They soon find themselves over their heads as well as possibly losing their minds. But as Lena points out, the only way out is deeper.
Garland loves to entrance the viewer with imagery that will haunt us. Haunting in ways both beautiful and grotesque, like some sort of mosaic depiction of hell. The visual treats are equally matched by the weighty score, blaring horns at you as if you’ve been asleep this whole time. The first act is lengthy with some odd story beats to get Lena where she needs to be. Not only her, but these women tend to have bland dialogue delivery. That is until we learn of their devils and reactions within the “Shimmer.” Annihilation plays on human assumption. How we think it’s our right to understand something and use it for dominance. Or how we act when we are ignorant and afraid. Movies that don’t play to our expectations are very important right now, especially in the science fiction drama and I could not recommend this one more.
Rating: 9 disturbing images out of 10
For more – Cole Hickey
Annihilation is currently in theaters