Annihilation (2018)

  • Time: 100 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Drama | Fantasy
  • Director: Alex Garland
  • Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson


A biologist’s husband disappears. She puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she’s expecting. The expedition team is made up of the biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist.


  • “We’re all damaged goods here,” one character says in Annihilation, the film adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s spare novel that also marks the sophomore directorial outing from screenwriter Alex Garland. As with his impressive first effort, Ex Machina, Annihilation deals with the often deceptive fabric of reality within the more Kubrickian corners of the sci-fi genre, but with more emphasis on the conflict between self-destruction and salvation. By no means a perfect film, it is nonetheless an often unsettling and memorable viewing experience.

    Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a cellular biology professor and former U.S. Army soldier whose life has been in unfocused stasis since the departure of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), who has been presumed dead or missing in action during a top-secret mission in a location deemed Area X, which has been overtaken by some sort of electromagnetic field named “the Shimmer.” One can only imagine Lena’s terror and confusion when, a year after his disappearance, Kane arrives home, remembering nothing, and suddenly going into multiple organ failure. Looking for either a cause or a cure for Kane’s mysterious malady, Lena volunteers for the latest mission, which will be led by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

    Apart from the chilly Ventress, the other team members – comprised of paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie Radeck (Tessa Thompson), and geologist Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) – are unaware of Lena’s connection to Kane, who is the only person who has managed to come back from the Shimmer. Anya’s theory is there must be something within the Shimmer that either makes people go crazy or kill each other, and what they discover once within the dense jungle both confirm and belie that premise. Once inside, the women, like those before them, lose their sense of time. What felt like hours turn out to be days and strange anomalies abound such as an alligator-shark hybrid and plants that seem trapped in an endless cycle of mutation. Form is corrupted, echoed and duplicated. DNA, including their own, is refracted. Yet the women have started on this path and it seems all they can do is follow it to see what’s at its end.

    The other characters are not afforded as much depth as Portman’s Lena. Though this may be due to Garland adhering to VanderMeer’s spare prose, it does lend a certain predictability when the body count starts rising. The supporting actresses do well enough to carve out some depth to make impressions – Rodriguez may have the slight edge over the others if only because Anya is a marked change from her Jane the Virgin television persona – but their fine work doesn’t offset certain parts of the film from treading into been-there, done-that territory. It may have benefited the film more had Portman’s Lena been the only entrant into the Shimmer since she is the focal point of the narrative and Portman delivers a tremendously compelling performance as Lena begins to question her sanity.

    Annihilation’s genuine highlight is its wordless climax which, without giving too much away, finds the film’s themes of confronting one’s own sometimes guilelessly destructive self in full-bore. Both terrifying and oddly beautiful, it’s a moment that elevates the rest of the film and leaves one deliberately in the throes of ambiguity.

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  • With some serious sci-fi mumbo jumbo, a look of sterile beauty, a good use of multidimensional space, and moments that are not for the squeamish, I give you 2018’s Annihilation (my latest review). In truth, I think Annihilation is a lot of things as a movie. Sadly, entertaining is not one of them.

    Annihilation’s story involves four scientists and one paramedic. With machine guns, foot soldier gear, and flawed dispositions in tote, these five women venture into an area called “the shimmer” (if you’ve seen a Coldplay music video you’ll know what I’m talking about). In “the shimmer”, they eventually lose their memory, their sense of time, and they encounter nasty mutations of various animals.

    Annihilation, which seems to ask more questions than an audience member can answer, feels preachy and contains a swift ending that has the emotional impact of a gnat. The film is frustrating and choppily edited, harboring a loud musical score, trite found footage clips, varied flashbacks, and shoddily acted flash-forwards.

    Annihilation is like Aliens without prototype aliens, John Carpenter’s The Thing with an all-female cast, and 2016’s Arrival without its characters getting totally mutilated. If I had my druthers, I’d still watch the pics just mentioned as opposed to taking in another viewing of Annihilation.

    Anyway, Annihilation’s director is London-born, Alex Garland. Although wet behind the ears, he is indeed a visionary and a sort of mimeographed version of David Lynch. His camera is constantly roving with most of his scenes shot from ground level. As for his general direction, well it seems a little more assured than his script. Overall, Garland tries too hard to reinvent the science fiction wheel here. His Annihilation is artsy-fartsy and overwrought, with sumptuous visuals and odious violence that can’t compensate for a continuity-free narrative.

    The troupers in Annihilation are comprised of Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Oscar Isaac. Their performances aren’t necessarily phoned in mind you. It’s just that they come off as blase more than anything else. Annihilation as antiseptic light showiness, may be headache-inducing but it still contains more of a pulse than Natalie, Jennifer, and Oscar can muster. Bottom line: Annihilation the word is defined as a “total defeat”. Annihilation the flick? Well it’s halfway there. Rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

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  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: B


    IN BRIEF: A strange nifty little sci-fi thriller that was wiped off the face of the earth due to bad distribution, and it is not its fault.

    JIM’S REVIEW: Alex Garfield’s Annihilation is a 2018’s sci-fi oddity. The backstory of this film is as compelling as the story seen on screen. Perhaps more so. Originally,Netflix purchased the film rights and distribution for this alien thriller. After gaining some positive critical reviews and also some preview audience’s negative reaction, the studio lost faith in the movie and disbanded the film in movie theaters less than a month after its premiere. To compensate for a loss, the company then made it a part of its streaming services worldwide (with the exception being its U.S. outlets). The director cried foul of this controversial release method and so did most of the Hollywood elite. He was right.

    That said, the film itself is a tad odd too. It may not enrapture a mass audience as it tells a well-worn formulaic story of scientists discovering an alien life force that mutates in a section of Planet Earth. Called “The Shimmer”, this glowing quarantined zone is soon being explored by Army Special Forces organized by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). After months trying to contain this area and all living plant and animal life within. another crew is assembled. This includes Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist and former soldier whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) had previously entered this Area X. Others in this all-female platoon include Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Josie (Tessa Thompson), and Cass (Tuva Novotny). This MeToo Movement quickly becomes a WhoseNext Movement as they battle supernatural forces in a test of survival. So much for women’s empowerment!

    Also strange is the lack of interest by sci-fi fans and moviegoers with this latest journey into the unknown, as it is a well-made and scary little thriller that deserved more attention. (Only 6 other people were in the audience when I viewed the movie.) Sure, there are leaps of logic…many. (Some randoms thoughts: Since others had gone before without any survivors, why was this female quartet better equipped to handle this mission? Shouldn’t these scientists be trained to know they are in a contagious area and dress for success? Nary a latex glove in sight. Since the team only traveled with backpacks, where does all the extra gear come from? Does anyone in this movie understand the meaning of the word, “quarantine”? Wouldn’t other war technology such as planes, drones, or jets with missiles be more efficient means of travel? Without sounding too sexist, wouldn’t one or two male soldiers be more advantageous for some physical muscle power on this unknown mission? Why is it always so hard to stay with the group when in peril?) Questions left unanswered or poorly explained.

    The adapted screenplay by Mr. Garfield is based on Jeff VanderMeer’s book. Too much time is spent on narrative exposition about genetic science and trying to add some dramatic elements about Lena’s human story, which does bring some character development but it also seriously impedes the action. It also takes far too long to finally enter the anomaly, about a half hour into a film that is barely two hours in length. Still, kudos for giving a standard sci-fi thriller come nice dialog, fine acting, and gravitas to this mix.

    Where the film excels is in its CGI visual images, sound design and Mr. Garfield’s artistic flair. The music score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow adds that eerie moodiness and the movie is well edited by Barney Pilling for maximum suspense. The director creates an intelligent and taut creature feature. As his film progresses, many moments are nerve-wrecking and fraught with tension. His memorable climactic showdown between our heroine and the alien life form becomes a lyrically freakish “dance of death”, well choreographed and stylishly realized.

    Annihilation won’t morph or change the sci-fi fantasy genre, This odd and intelligent film may have a polarizing effect to some moviegoers, but the artistry on display deserved some love and admiration.

    NOTE: The end credits are a wonderful light show of extended colors and hypnotic swirls. Stay for it.

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  • “Blackwater National Park reported that a lighthouse was surrounded by something they termed “a shimmer.”
    One of the wardens went in to investigate.
    Never returned.”

    Let me get right to the point. “Annihilation” isn’t exactly an easy SF. This horrifying SciFi can join the group of “the more intellectual looking SF films” where “Arrival” can be found as well. The more subtle form of SF, where you wonder all the time what is actually going on (just like the protagonists in this movie). And in the end you still have a lot of questions. In terms of imaging, it looks like “Predator” mixed with influences from “Invasion of the body snatchers“. And it all takes place in a giant soap bubble. One moment the group of five women stumble through a jungle where they are attacked by grotesque, mutated predators. The next moment it looks like a fairytale forest with strange, colorful vegetation and exotic flowers. I guess this group of women don’t know exactly what they are looking for. To be honest, they are complete lost and their sense of time and place is off.

    It all starts with the impact from a meteorite, close to a lighthouse somewhere off the coast of the USA. And before Lena (Natalie Portman) realizes it, her husband (an American soldier who was MIA) is back siting with her in the kitchen, she’s taken to a military base and she’s informed about the mystery that now exists after the incident with the meteor. After that impact a huge zone has arisen, which they call “the shimmer” and where no one has ever returned from. Except for her husband, who came back in bad shape. This first part is already difficult to get through. It’s terribly slow with a lot of flashbacks. Not exactly easy to follow, but fascinating enough to arouse curiosity.

    This is yet another original SF that Netflix tries to launch after “The Cloverfield Paradox” and “Mute“. And this time it’s exclusive for the viewers of Netflix, because you can only see it in a limited number of cinemas worldwide. Maybe that’s a point of discussion. Wouldn’t it be better to watch this movie on a big screen ? Because the scenery looks exceptionally beautiful at times. And it’s also very exciting and super mysterious. The footage they see on a camcorder, looks bizarre. The discoveries they make at the military base are really frightening. No surprise that there are some who want to pack their bags as quickly as possible. The only question is where to go. Disorientation and mutual mistrust aren’t exactly helpfull aspects. And when they start to encounter all kinds of murderous creatures, there’s the obvious comparison with certain action-packed scenes from the “Alien” series.

    “Annihilation“, a film directed by Alex Garland who’s responsible for the magisterial film “Ex Machina“, can certainly be called successful. Maybe it’s a tad too complicated and you scratch your hair several times. Yet this film is unique in its way and as a viewer you can interpret it in your own way. I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece though. The group of women who volunteered for this expedition, may look like the jungle version of those that hunted other ghosts in “Ghostbusters“. But this film is of a different level and certainly not as disastrous as the latter. This quirky SF has made me an even bigger fan of the Netflix Originals.

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