By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Alex Garland’s latest is a provocative and fascinating piece of work. A marvel of modern cinema, and I honestly doubt that I’ll see a better film his year.
Biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) and a team of scientists led by a psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh) investigate the mysterious Area X, a quarantined zone inhabited by an alien-like ‘shimmer’ stemming from a coastal lighthouse. No one has ever returned, that is until Lena’s husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) shows up.
Where do I even begin with Annihilation? It’s a highly ambitious science fiction thriller directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina) and loosely based on the novel of the same name by Jeff Vandemeer. It’s also more than likely going to be my number 1 film for this year.
First and foremost, this film is a powerful and emotional downward spiral into self-destruction. As psychologist Dr Ventriss (Jennifer Jason Leigh) puts it, ‘almost none of us commit suicide, but almost everyone self-destructs’. We drink and smoke, we lose our jobs. The theme is investigated throughout right down to a cellular level. It’s then that you notice cells everywhere. In every shot, in every object, as if Garland has engraved them into the film itself. This film is teeming with rich symbolism.
Cancer is also a prevalent theme from beginning to end. From people to planet. There’s a distinctive Darren Aronofsky vibe throughout the film as we’re treated to Lena’s subjectivity, guilt and paranoia which of course, only worsens as the team edges closer to the lighthouse.
The shimmer gradually ‘disintegrates’ things via combining and refracting DNA so you can imagine the kinds of twisted Thing-esque body horror and cross-species mutation that’s inflicted upon people and plants within it. Some of it is so intricately designed and perfect that you cant help but marvel at it. There’s an iridescent glare throughout the film that acts as a cancerous rainbow of sorts – wonderfully psychedelic visuals that pave the way for some inventive sequences, beautiful, but also utterly terrifying.
There’s one scene involving a bear that is probably one of the most unsettling moments I’ve ever seen in a film, ever. Garland is a master at work and a maestro of visceral horror. After all, aside from his stunning directorial debut Ex Machina, the man is also behind the screenplays for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, Sunshine and The Beach.
Performances are also on point. The team are made up of intelligent, honest, and realistic characters whom you come to understand over the course of the film. Each of them suffering from depression and self-destruction in some form or another. The cast is talented and have clearly worked hard. Tessa Thompson is almost unrecognisable as timid physicist Josie Radek. Miles away from her drunken valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok. Portman is fantastic as usual, and her relationship to Kane is realistic and 100% free of cheese.
Annihilation’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, and that’s its insanely cryptic final act. The lack of dialogue, and..modern dance? It made Paramount pictures question the film’s release and they even dubbed it as being ‘too intellectual’ – god forbid that cinema should be intellectual. Probably because they’d already taken a risk with Aronofsky’s Mother! in 2017 which was a similar film in terms of its unconventional and highly allegoric approach towards climate change, but failed dismally at the box office.
Very disappointing. I would’ve loved to have seen this on the big screen. Annihilation, like Mother! is a wonderfully crafted film that will be talked about for years to come. I have no hesitations in comparing this film to sci-fi classics of old. There’s even some Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky in there. There’s just so much to take away from this film. So many interpretations, and that’s the beauty of it.
Alex Garland has more than proved himself as an auteur to be reckoned with, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Annihilation is now available to watch on Netflix CZ.