Much like science fiction movies of old like Blade Runner, Alex Garland’s incredible Annihilation makes us think about humanity. However, Garland borrows elements from movies such as Arrival with a little bit of Aliens and Predator to present a look into the possibility of extra-terrestrial life and how it will react to humans’ best and worst instincts.
The story follows Lena (played by Natalie Portman), a biology professor who, after reuniting with her presumed dead husband Kane (played by Oscar Isaac), joins four military scientists (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny), on an investigation of a restricted area referred to as The Shimmer, the last place Kane entered before being assumed MIA. Mysteries unravel as they traverse further into The Shimmer imposing questions about humanity and their self-destructive nature.
Natalie Portman’s Lena is very secretive and emotionally-restrained, which adds a layer of complexity to Portman’s nuanced yet gripping performance. The supporting cast delivers strong characteristics each in their own way, drawing on life’s diverse sensations. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, Dr. Ventress, carries the film’s sense of mystery and suspense through her ambiguous facial expressions as their journey progresses. Gina Rodriguez’s dramatic range is on full display through her character of Anya, who grows increasingly paranoid about her teammates’ secrets and motivations for embarking on the mission.
Among Annihilation’s main takeaways are the eye-popping CGI effects. Both the effects and the incredible animatronic creatures lend themselves perfectly to The Shimmer’s beautiful yet unpredictable atmosphere.
One of the film’s standouts is the score from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, which ranges from acoustic folk music to a deeply hypnotic droning. It is equivalent to the sound I periodically hear when trying to remember a song I can’t quite remember.
Annihilation boldly questions how creatures of a higher intelligence would respond to humans and vice versa, transcending both our mental and spiritual capacities. Oftentimes, paranoia surrounds the unknown, like the creatures depicted in this film.
Hollywood needs more science fiction movies that create conversation for general audiences. In this landscape of blockbuster tent poles and superhero franchises, it is refreshing to see thought-provoking science fiction flicks that do not pander to focus groups.
Regarding personal gripes about this film, the plot begins to feel rather predictable especially towards the end. It was arguably more predictable than the endings of other sci-fi flicks like Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 and Garland’s own Ex Machina, which are engrained in my memory.
At the end of the day, these kinds of movies are meant to be seen in a movie theater, instead of on a cell phone, tablet or television screen. The “wow” factor that comes with this transcendent experience in the theater would be severely lacking on such devices. Without the theatrical experience, the magic that transports audiences to far-off worlds would be severely lacking in our modern culture.
Final Score: 9 out of 10