“To those who follow…”
From writer and director Alex Garland, Annihilation tells the story of a biologist, Lena, whose husband, Kane, returns from a mysterious assignment after 12 months. The happiness is of Kane’s return is short lived after Kane is taken seriously ill. Now Lena must go into The Shimmer in order to find out what happened to her husband. Lena, along with four other female scientists, must go into The Shimmer to collect data and find out what is at the source of this bizarre phenomena. The story, adapted from Jeff VanderMeer’s book of the same name, is a complicated one to follow. Even in all its complexity, I fell deeply in love with this film from the start. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey, mixed with elements of Alien, when trying to find a comparable movie. Garland’s films are always centered on sci-fi in some way. Ex Machina, Garland’s last film, was incredibly intriguing and well done. But fast forward to today, when speaking about Annihilation. The man has now solidified himself as an auteur in this genre.
The cast of Annihilation captures your eye from start to finish. Being a heavily female cast, the females of this film are strong and intelligent. Now, “strong” maybe should not be used when describing a female character onscreen, but when so many writers often portray women as passive in film, I believe that the word strong is a great way to describe such women as these. Natalie Portman who plays our main character, Lena, is an unbelievable presence. Portman carries this complex movie on her shoulders, but does not waiver at the weight of this monster. She portrays this character as hardened, but also has elements of sympathy when needed. Supporting actors Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez also give gritty performances. Without going into so many spoilers, Rodriguez has a scene in the film where she had me on the edge of my seat. However, though these characters add so much to Annihilation’s overall greatness, it was Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays Dr. Ventress, that really wowed me. I continually said to myself throughout the film, after one of Leigh’s gripping scenes, how much I loved her. Leigh is tough during the whole film. If clichés have it, she spits nails. One issue I have with Leigh’s performances, in the pst, is she can be a little flat. Though her performance in this film can come off as dry, I do believe that it contributed so much to the creepiness of her character. There’s more that I want to learn about the character of Dr. Ventress. Her personality consists of so many layers that I don’t think we can fully unearth who she is.
Annihilation is very Kubrickian in its storytelling. The film doesn’t give you much information as to what these women are getting into. As for the source material, I cannot truly go into detail about what liberties Garland took with his script. I did hear that Garland did not reread the book before writing the script. Instead he based it on “a dream version” of the novel. I will say that the script, as well as Garland’s direction, hit every major point a great film should have.
The ending of Annihilation is a divisive one, but I believe that’s what makes it great. This film does not pander to its audience members. No, instead you are given an experience that will last with you for days. In a time when cinema has become so predictable, it’s nice to see a film that thinks outside the box. Annihilation will have you returning to the cinema to see it over and over again. Not to better understand the film, but to witness the sheer beauty that unfolds before your eyes.
Written and Directed by: Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac