Jacob Richardson | 19/03/2018
Alex Garland’s latest sci-fi flick is a beautiful, heady and mind-boggling exploration of a truly unique concept.
When her husband comes back from a secret, year long mission, ex-military biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) is deeply concerned. He’s not himself, he doesn’t remember anything and he’s haemorrhaging internally. But when a squadron of black-clad military men come and swoop them away to a secret facility, she is inducted into a select group investigating a weird phenomena; something called The Shimmer – a slowly expanding region around a lighthouse that changes things inside. No one who has gone in has ever come out (including radio signals); no one, that is, except Lena’s husband Kane (Oscar Isaac).
Lena joins a team going into The Shimmer, made up of no nonsense Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) and the all gusto Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez). They’re all scientists, and while they know that what they are signing up for is likely a suicide mission, their curiosity (and in Lena’s case, her feelings towards her dying husband) lead them onwards, into The Shimmer.
Alex Garland’s first feature, Ex Machina, was an amazing, intricate and tremendously well made piece. Annihilation is no different. It’s built on a concept that is not only utterly unique, but also delivers truly beautiful imagery. The bubble-liquid like surface of The Shimmer, the flower bedecked horns of deer, the weird and wonderful undead bear, or the crystalline trees. They all shock and stun the viewer with their beauty, and, indeed, their sense of unease, because fundamentally this is a thriller. It’s a beautiful, weird and sci-fi-esque thriller, but it’s still often heart pounding.
Natalie Portman is tremendous, as are Leigh, Rodriguez, Novotny and Thompson. They sell the fear, the uncertainty and, most of all, the grim will of these women. There’s a brief scene immediately prior to their entry where Portman notes that they are all women, and Rodriguez corrects here – “scientists” she says, and it’s a testament to this groups chemistry and skill that they fundamentally sell the determinations of five people in undertaking this suicide mission. Their being scientists forms a key part of this; they are all fundamentally curious about the phenomena, and this lends an air of curiosity that Garland utilises to transfix his audience.
Unsurprisingly, the film ends in a pile of questions; many of which likely intended to never be made clear. It’s a movie that stays with you for a long time after; a film of such daring and unique enterprise that you find yourself longing to be back in that world. It’s also a film that will leave you jealous of the Americans, for Annihilation should be seen on the big screen. It should be seen on the big screen more than any Peter Rabbit or Red Sparrow. It’s a daring piece of filmmaking; intelligent, affecting and beautiful, and the fact that you have to watch it on your computer or TV screen instead of in a packed theatre full of wonderment is aggressively distasteful. But that doesn’t take away from what Garland has achieved here, which is a sophomore film to rival his first in beauty, intensity, creativity and bravery.
Annihilation is a must-watch. Utterly transfixing, it’s boundless creativity, tremendous performances, beautiful cinematography and daring will leave you thinking about it for a long time after Netflix’s “because you watched” screen comes up.