Annihilation

Kane’s been missing for a year when he suddenly turns up at the home he shares with his wife, Lena, hemorrhaging blood. He’s been deployed on a top-secret mission that Lena can’t fully understand even as she’s recruited to join the next one. Of the dozens of men deployed, Kane is the only one to return, and he’s just waiting to die of organ failure.

Three years ago, something mysterious happened to a nearby lighthouse, which has been enveloped in a “shimmer”, a danger zone inside which terrible things are happening and from which no one returns. The zone is growing daily, and their own city will be overtaken if they don’t figure it out soon. So Lena (Natalie Portman) joins the next mission, the first one to be all-female, an expert biologist but also just a wife wondering why her husband would sign up for a suicide mission. She joins a group of women (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny) highly trained but with nothing to lose as they enter what is likely to be their last mission.

63a7237ca43826d1507503b739fc4d55Inside, every living thing has been transformed. Mutations have made some things astonishingly beautiful, and other things the stuff of nightmares (imagine an alligator-shark hybrid). And now those things are also taking on human DNA.

Director Alex Garland took on human uniqueness in Ex Machina and further explores the subject here. When they are reflected back on us in other living things, which of our traits make us truly special, truly human? It’s a scary question. Garland continues to excel in the creepy, quiet moments between the splashier, gorier stuff. His style throws us off-kilter even as the visuals delight. The audience is continuously confronted with questions to chew on while scary monsters breathe down our goose-pimpled necks. Alex Garland is clearly a talented sci-fi film maker, and even if you leave the theatre confused, you won’t be able to let it go.

For fans of the novel, by Jeff VanderMeer, don’t go in too attached. Garland chose not to re-read the book before embarking upon the script, so the movie turns out more a distant cousin of the book rather than a faithful adaptation. In fact, the details I remembered most from the book were absent; clearly Garland and I latched on to different themes. But the essence remains, the terror remains, the curiosity remains. Annihilation doesn’t exist just to scare you, it wants to challenge you. This is a bold film that doesn’t fit inside any comfortable Hollywood mold. The studio is crapping its pants because it think the movie’s too “cerebral” for us folk. But you know what? Embracing the unknown can be freeing. And exploring these concepts with women as our protagonists, free from macho bullshit, allow us to also experience these things for their beauty and their terror at the same time. Portman’s character is remote, unreachable. Rather, Thompson and Rodriguez provide the most emotional heft as their characters contemplate the most gorgeous and familiar of mysteries.

I left this movie shaken.

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34 thoughts on “Annihilation

  1. Sean

    This is a really challenging film that leaves us to guess at what’s happening along with the onscreen characters. I liked it a lot for not being afraid to leave us in the dark. You did well to put that feeling into words. The imagery inside the shimmer is a good safety net as its bizarre beauty easily keeps our attention even as we desperately try to piece it all together.

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  2. raistlin0903

    Really looking forward to seeing this one. It becomes available on Netflix here on the 13th of March. I always love films that try something different and this one sounds like it’s doing a great job with that. Wonderful post as always 😊

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  3. Pingback: Annihilation – The Militant Negro™

    1. Jay Post author

      You’re not wrong. It’s been marketed at a horror flick but it’s not like modern horrors. It’s lots of suspense, and some truly scary things AND ideas, but it’s mostly got a very strong sci-fi bent.

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  4. peggyatthemovies

    So do you think reading the book is worth it then? I’m seeing a lot of people that hate the movie, which I definitely didn’t – or love it – which I didn’t either. But yes, it does leave you thinking for sure. One thing everyone does agree on is how good Gina Rodriguez is here.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, I know who she is but don’t watch her TV show. She is very good.

      I definitely enjoyed the book, but it’s got some of the same flaws as the movie in that it really keeps you guessing and doesn’t answer much (the book is part of a planned trilogy, so that may have something to do with it). I definitely noticed a lot of differences between the book and the movie, and if you started with the movie you may find that frustrating.

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      1. peggyatthemovies

        Yeah I think I’ve seen 2 eps of her TV show a few years back.. my mom used to like it. I’m a big reader so I might like it & see more into it..who knows. I used to read the book before the movie, but then I found myself getting angry at movies that didn’t follow the book hahahaha – so now I do it the other way around and it’s a bit easier. I will probably find it frustrating no matter as I just went..ugh..when the part started with JJL – and the movie def. left itself open for sequels with the final scene – which let’s face it, I think we all knew what it was going to be.

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  5. tubularsock

    As usual Tubularsock may be off track here but it sounds like the prequel to a Trump In The White House movie! It appears that Annihilation is being played in real time to Tubularsock. Pass the whiskey sister.

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  6. Liz A.

    I’m not sure if I want to see this. The trailer was interesting. But there’s something… I don’t know. I’ve gotten to the point lately where I want familiar. Something I know I’ll like. But then there are all sorts of films that I don’t know I’ll like going in that I enjoy. I guess I’m just a little gun shy at the moment.

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  7. Experience Film

    You confirmed my hunch, which was that Garland strayed immensely from the book, which I did not read. This film is a juxtaposition of beauty and terror, although the beauty failed to register. Maybe because that Bear scared the bejeezus out of me. This one certainly challenged, and I’m still thinking about it.

    Stellar review, Jay!

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, maybe. I didn’t feel too badly about it myself because I could just take the book as inspired by rather than a faithful adaptation. But if you’re going in as a real fan of the book, it would be harder.

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  8. sportsattitudes

    I like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t require closure at the end of a couple of hours in the theatre and, for sure, I’m not even close on this one. My recommendation is, if one liked “Arrival” they will probably like “Annihilation” as well.

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  9. Dennis the Vizsla

    hello jay its dennis the vizsla dog hay my dada has this buk but hasnt red it yet he wuz planning to git to the buk befor seeing the moovee but hmmm maybe i wil tel him not to wurry abowt it!!! ok bye

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