Script writer Alex Garland has returned with another intelligent sci-fi flick in “Annihilation,” an adaptation of the Jeff VanderMeer novel of the same name. While I can’t speak on the film’s merit as an adaptation, I can safely say this is one of the more exciting sci-fi films I’ve seen in a while and an early placeholder for my top 10 movies of the year so far.
Lena is a college professor whose military husband randomly returns home after being missing in action for more than a year. He soon falls ill as they are both transported to “Area X,” where a group of scientists are trying to stop a force field known as the “Shimmer,” which has begun growing in the southern U.S. Lena volunteers to venture into the Shimmer to find out what happened to her husband. She discovers an environment, unlike any humanity has seen, that reveals more sinister implications within.
Lena, played by Natalie Portman, is the most compelling character in the all female team sent into the Shimmer. This proves to be the film’s largest problem. When these characters start getting killed off, it’s difficult to care about their deaths, as they are barely developed beyond a few lines of expository dialogue. While the actresses do the best with what they have, it’s apparent that they need to be featured in a few more scenes.
This isn’t to say there isn’t tension once they enter the ever-changing and bizarre environment of the Shimmer. The alien environment is beautifully realized with a mixture of gorgeous special effects and horrific, body-horror-esque mutated animals within. Whenever the group is in danger, an uncommonly upsetting death or violently gory act usually follows.
Lena describes the environment as a dream mixed with a nightmare and this dreamlike quality is felt throughout the film. The narrative is non-linear and at times confusing, the imagery is grotesquely bizarre and the score abstract and even unpleasant. The illusory nature of “Annihilation” continues until the end, which leaves the audience with more questions than answers. That may be the most effective part of all.
Explaining why the lack of clarification is effective would spoil what makes this film so special. Essentially, the vagueness of the narrative captures the fear of the unknown, which the film explores and strives for. The mysteries are devices used to expose the larger questions of the ephemeral nature of humanity, how loss and life events change us, and how we handle these questions when directly confronted.
“Annihilation” will prove frustrating for most, as the ending brings few explanations. This isn’t to say there isn’t conclusion, or that you won’t get some answers, but they may not be the ones you’re looking for. Personally, the lack of conclusivity is what made me fall in love with this film.
When walking out of “Annihilation,” I was struck by how frightening the concepts and themes are. This is a sci-fi horror film where the science is the horror. There’s no alien monster or civilization with specific intent, it’s a scientific anomaly that we can barely comprehend. It’s unnatural, unfathomable and nearly incomprehensible.
And these unsettling thoughts are what will stick with audiences long after the credits have ended, as the film begins to creep into our lives and make us question ourselves and our place in the universe.
Sam Goodrich Staff Writer