It takes a great level of effort to make a film with mutant crocodiles intellectually engaging, but if anybody can do it, it’s Alex Garland. “Annihilation” is the second film written and directed by Garland after his debut film “Ex Machina” and is a loose adaptation of the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy. While it never reaches the heights of Garland’s pervious film, “Annihilation” embraces its wonderfully weird concept to create a challenging, ambiguous narrative that will leave audiences with plenty to think about.
“Annihilation” stars Natalie Portman as Lena, a biologist and military operative who must lead an all-female team (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Gina Rodriguez) into a quarantine zone in Florida known as “the shimmer” after her husband (Oscar Isaac) returns from a previous expedition mysteriously ill. “The shimmer” is its own uncanny world; it is a mutated reflection of the planet earth featuring mutated plants and animals, contained within a bubble of multicolored light. Once inside, the team makes a number of strange discoveries and comes to believe that energies within “the shimmer” are causing life to mutate, previous expedition teams to go insane and start killing each other and for their own worst tendencies to come to light.
As pulpy as this film sounds, it is incredibly smart and well-executed. Every one of the five lead women gets plenty of time for their characters to develop, and each one is stretched to their limits by the uncanny environment. On the subject of the environment, the visuals in this film are absolutely gorgeous. It offers a peculiar mix of bright, “Alice in Wonderland” aesthetics mixed with the horrifically bizarre that comes straight out of the “Alien” franchise. Exploring the mystery that drives the characters’ mission is very engaging and the ending will leave you wanting more.
It is difficult to talk about this film without giving too much away, but readers should know that this is not the monster horror film it has been marketed as. While there are certainly elements of this, and it’s evident that the film takes plenty of inspiration from “Alien” and “The Thing,” the film lives primarily in the cerebral sci-fi genre alongside films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Arrival.” This is not the type of film that will appeal to everyone, but for anyone whose interest is piqued, it is a must-see.
This article first appeared in the Friday, March 2, 2018, Edition of The Echo.