Movie Review: Annihilation
Alex Garland’s latest science fiction film, Annihilation, officially hit theaters this past weekend. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, the film follows a group of scientists who enter “The Shimmer,” a mysterious, quarantined zone that continues to expand. Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a biologist and former soldier. She is joined by a predominantly female cast that includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny. Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, and David Gyasi also play some of the supporting characters in the film.
The film opens with Lena (Portman) in a quarantined room being questioned about what happened to her and her team in Area X. From there, the movie shifts to earlier in Lena’s timeline. She is a professor of cellular biology, and her husband, Kane, has been missing for a year. When he mysteriously shows up at their house, he seems unwell and unlike himself, which leads to both of them being brought back to a secure research compound. At the compound, Lena learns that Kane was a part of the latest expedition to venture into Area X, also known as “The Shimmer.” No one has come back from the area alive until Kane, and the area continues to expand as time passes. With her husband’s life on the line, Lena opts to join the next exploration team in hopes of learning how to heal him. Once they enter The Shimmer, though, the team is challenged as they face the realities of Area X and the experiences of previous teams.
The one thing that all reviewers will say despite whether they enjoyed the film or not is that the visuals of this movie are striking. From the iridescent gleams from the shell of the shimmer to the various plants and animals featured in the film, it is a visually striking movie. Both beautiful and horrifying, this film draws you into this mysterious, unsettling world. Along with the visuals, the film utilizes sound and at times silence incredibly well. From the tech driven pieces of music to “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills & Nash, all of the music heightens the tension found throughout the entire story.
So, now that those two points are addressed, I have to say that I enjoyed this movie. It is an intense story with some truly unsettling moments woven throughout, but it is a thought-provoking film. In addition to being a story about survival and this unknown entity, it also weaves in this commentary about biology, self-destruction, and malignancy. I’ve seen quite a few comments about the potential allegorical meaning of the film, which I could easily see in reflecting upon it. Outside of the story itself and the ideas that it explores, Annihilation is also full of some good performances. Obviously Natalie Portman is the headliner, and she is believable not just as a biologist but also as a former soldier. The other actresses who represent her team all deliver on some intense scenes as does Oscar Isaac throughout flashback sequences. However, the other standout performance for me was Tessa Thompson, who seems to be able to disappear into any type of role.
Overall, Annihilation is an interesting watch, but I think I will have to watch it multiple times to fully digest every aspect of the story. It is not a story that necessarily gives a lot of answers, and it requires one to pay close attention as the story and the science unfolds. With that said, I love those kind of movies, so I am slightly biased on this one. It is rated R, and it earns its ratings with some truly horrific imagery and attach sequences. If you enjoy intense science fiction films, though, then I would say that Annihilation is worth a watch in the theater.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.