Alex Garland's "Annihilation" is a odd, tense and sometimes horrifying journey that explores the relationship between genetics and identity. And you have the bar for high-quality conceptual work set so high thanks to television now. A freaky, lush little book, Annihilation follows its protagonist (a biologist played by Natalie Portman in the film) into a mysterious aberration on the natural landscape called Area X. Despite attempts to cordon off and limit the phenomenon, Area X is growing, and consumes all those who enter. Lena still embraces him, though, and the film closes on both of their irises shifting in color, which suggests that neither is she. In fact, all they know is the shimmer started at a lighthouse and has been expanding for the three years they've been studying it, but no one they've sent into the shimmer has returned - that is, until Kane.
When Lena, who met Kane during her own time in the Army, learns that the woman supplying her with this information, psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), will be leading another team into the Shimmer, she insists on joining. The film is his directorial follow-up to the critically-acclaimed Ex Machina with a cast boasting Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and arrives on a raft of positive reviews. There's also great work from their other crew members played by Gina Rodriguez, so charming in Jane the Virgin and so striking here, Tessa Thompson, quietly affecting and deserving of her Bafta-nominated rising star status and Swedish actor Tuva Nuvotny who makes a piercing impression in a small role.
In an effort to find out what happened, Lena signs on to join what just happens to be an all -female group taking a trip into the exact same place.
It's about a particular aspect of technology at the moment which is to do with very, very big data and very powerful processing power, and what can happen when you put those two things together. Opening up the film is Lena giving a biology lesson to college students on cell structure which becomes another roadmap to making sense of the overall narrative.
As said before, Annihilation is a slowly paced experience that will test the patience of many common moviegoers, but it oozes a unique atmosphere of handsome dread (courtesy of cinematographer Rob Hardy) where danger is imminent even in broad daylight.
The film was released in the U.S. on February 23, but Philippine viewers can catch it on March 12, via Netflix.
Based on Jeff VanderMeer's novel, the story opens with an Extra-Terrestrial fireball streaking across space and crashing to Earth at a southern Florida lighthouse. I love the score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, and Glenn Freemantle's sound design is practically a character here. Producer Rudin backed Garland's cut of the movie, so the distributor struck a deal with Netflix to minimize financial risk. The occasional use of lens flaring is also a nice way of reminding us what vivid nightmare these characters are stuck inside. Unfortunately, as the script rolls on, we never fully understand Leigh's motivations, while the ragtag team is mostly just fodder for a hoard of mysterious creatures to attack. However, without learning much about the supporting characters and knowing they aren't going to make it, it's hard to feel much for them outside of the basic connection between viewer and talented performer. And again, Garland proves to be a true auteur behind the camera, skillfully framing his shots with a meticulous skill, and its portrayal of what things look like inside the shimmer is also impressive.
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Sci-fi has always been a genre that asks questions, pushes the boundaries and engages with the weighty issues of humanity, but there are moments when it incorporates horror elements to create something that's truly classic. It's not entirely clear on a first viewing exactly how Garland's film answers that question, but maybe it doesn't really need to.
That said, Annihilation won't be for everyone.
With any story that descends into the unusual - as "Annihilation" definitely does - the audience needs to be grounded properly.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments! But Annihilation is more than mere visuals and it will shock, fascinate and haunt whatever screen it's watched on.
Annihilation is out this Friday (February 23).
"Annihilation" is rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality; running time: 115 minutes.