PARAMOUNT PICTURES (2018)

 

Director: Alex Garland

 

Starring: Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny, Gina Rodriguez, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong

Annihilation – a movie “too brainy” for us cinema-flooding Brits.

 

Or so Paramount Pictures would have you believe. Receiving a cinematic release in the USA, the rest of the world had to make do with catching the flick on Netflix (saved a cold journey out, however, so every cloud...). For some reason, the studio obviously didn’t have full-faith in its female-led sci-fi adventure  thriller and a lower-key release was decided – which is a huge shame as Annihilation is one of ‘those’ movies that really should be witnessed in full movie theatre glory.

Accepting that her solder husband had been killed in action, biologist Lena (Portman) struggles to get to grips with the life she now must lead. However, when her husband Kane (Isaac) mysteriously returns lacking any of his previous personality traits, she is thrown into further emotional turmoil. Things get even worse when Kane’s health drastically deteriorates and he and Lena are taken in by a government security force to a secret location. There she learns of a strange phenomenon known as ‘The Shimmer’ that has begun to spread from its origin point. Everyone who has entered The Shimmer has failed to return – except for Kane – and the mysterious area is clearly a threat to humanity. Believing it her destiny to uncover the mystery, for herself and Kane, Lena heads into The Shimmer - along with physicist Josie (Thompson), paramedic Anya (Rodriguez), geologist Cass (Novotny) and team leader Dr. Ventress (Leigh) – where she finds absolutely nothing is as it should be and the very basis of humankind is scientifically and supernaturally warped.

 

Alex Garland’s newest flick certainly follows in the footsteps of his last, Ex Machina. It too is a slow-paced, high-brow deep dive into humanity and dripping with ambiguity. Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, Annihilation really is gagging to be seen on the big screen – it’s visually stunning at points and the sound design that accompanies it is more than impressive. Anchored by the nearly-always excellent Natalie Portman, the movie also benefits from having a rock-solid supporting cast crammed with talent – each getting their time to shine in a fine ensemble performance. The final act was disappointing (for me) and I didn’t engage it with nearly as much as I had with the previous 90 mins – though I appreciated the message bubbling in the bizarreness. It won’t be for everyone, and it’s not unfair to call Annihilation an intelligent sci-fi movie, simply because it is, so engage your brains, sit back and take it all in.

 

Unless, like me, you’re British, then try not to eat crayons during it.

 

The movie takes the idea of intelligent sci-fi and runs with it throughout. There’s plenty of wordy exposition within the dialogue that requires your full attention (but, shouldn’t all movies?) and the narrative unravels with a delicious ambiguity, so if you like your sci-fi hardcore, Annihilation will massage every vital bit of you. In terms of writing overall, the movie is well-written and the characters feel ‘real’, in the sense of the dialogue they are given, but also in the way they act. The cast as a whole are all great, Portman is again on top form and the rock solid cast around her more than help to elevate the material. I’d only ask why not just have Tessa Thompson speak in her native tongue? However, there’s no denying the female fivesome looked badass tooled up, guns in hands, ready to take on whatever lay beyond The Shimmer.

 

About the story, it’s a complex, ponderous one that challenges you to follow the mystery with the group that enters The Shimmer – on that note, I’m not a fan of the phenomenon’s name, however, had Stephen King written this it would somehow have sounded right. It’s certainly more adventure than action, but even that could be classed as a stretch – its more mystery than anything. There are brief flashes of action to break the pace, including one extremely good scene involving a bear-creature and a house that’ll freak you out and confuse you all at once. Also, if you’re squeamish around knives and navels, bring a blindfold.

 

Unfortunately, the epically weird finale didn’t work for me. In a movie that broke the seal of reality, it somehow managed to feel like a step too far and was wholly unsatisfying. Sometimes, less is more and it would have benefitted Annihilation had more restraint been shown. The message that was within the layers was worthy, the execution? Not so much.

 

Is death (or annihilation) the end? A beginning? Somewhere inbetween? Annihilation poses the questions and challenges you to not contemplate. There’s no rushing here, Garland opting for story over thrills and, finale aside, has crafted an extremely good sci-fi complexity. It will either encapsulate you or bore you to tears, luckily I found it to be pretty damn good.

 

Also, the word ‘annihilation’ is great.

March 12th 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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