2018 – YEAR IN RETROSPECT review
Released Feb. 23, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 55min
Directed by Alex Garland
Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Issac
Lena (Portman) is a renowned cellular biologist who volunteers for a dangerous expedition into an anomalous region known as ‘The Shimmer’, a place that no longer abides by the understood laws of nature for reasons unknown.
Annihilation is a very brainy, somewhat abstract, and generally slowburn effort for what is commonly a setup for slam-bang sci-fi/action. While not a rip-roaring ride, by any means, the focus on the characters and how they relate to the premise does allow for moments of genuine horror to shine through, where they may have otherwise been muted.
With its A-list cast, $50M+ budget, and a concept suited for a high-octane experience, it comes then as a profound surprise just how strange, deep, and dark Annihilation actually is. Not satisfied with presenting much, if anything, at face value, the film builds a bewildering labyrinth of themes, questions, and ideas – all with little interest in offering a hand to the audience to help guide them through it. These types of experiences emerge rather frequently from the indie world, but to get it from a Hollywood endeavor is honestly shocking.
“Well, this is a very unique piece. I wonder what the artist was trying to say with the…oh, this was a person.”
That’s probably for good reason though, as Annihilation has proven to alienate numerous fans of both sci-fi and horror with its intellectual ambitions, dreamlike narrative, and challenging plot. This is the kind of expensive auteur effort that gives studio executives cold sweats and nightmares, with visions of red ink plaguing their sleep. Perhaps that’s not irrational, as the film likely lost a decent bundle of money in its theatrical run, but that’s hardly the same as being a bad movie.
This does not appear to be the sort of bear that will be appeased with a mere picnic basket.
That’s because Annihilation is exceptionally well-made. The cinematography and use of SFX make for visuals that are stunning, haunting, or horrific – depending on what the situation demands – that give The Shimmer a true sense of place, which is vital for a story such as this, where the setting is essentially its own character. The actual characters themselves are quite dour and mostly business-like regarding their quest into the mysterious zone, but each have complex reasons for taking upon a veritable suicide mission, and those reasons are far deeper than mere scientific curiosity. It gives much of the film a mournful tone akin to a funeral march – not necessarily fun, but certainly fascinating to watch. These intricate characters are given solid portrayals throughout, as should be expected from a cast of this caliber. At this point, Natalie Portman can effortlessly carry a movie on her shoulders, giving supporting roles more room to breathe and develop. All of this provides an atmosphere where, when the horror elements do appear, they hit with rightful impact.
Annihilation is very likely the most visually spell-binding horror film of the year (rivaled only by Mandy).
That isn’t to say, however, that Annihilation is an enjoyable ride. If the movie were a person walking down a hallway, it would open the door to every room it passed, barely glancing inside before moving on to the next. It’s important to know before watching that it’s a thoroughly cerebral experience with occasional outbreaks of excitement and expectations should be tempered accordingly. It does maintain a sense of tension and growing dread as it proceeds, so that’s not to say that it’s dull. Writer/director Alex Garland, with his second effort behind the camera after modern sci-fi classic Ex Machina, has crafted a film that is unquestionably memorable and mesmerizing. I wouldn’t consider it fulfilling though, but that doesn’t appear to have been one of its objectives.
Annihilation gets a rating of