Annihilation

Release: Friday, February 23, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Alex Garland

Directed by: Alex Garland

Annihilation is the reason for many things. It is the reason why science fiction is my cinematic genre of choice — there is something thrilling about breaking the rules and getting away with it, and here is a world in which the laws of nature really don’t apply. It is the reason why in British director Alex Garland I trust, blindly, from here on out.* But Annihilation is as much a disturbing spectacle as it is a confounding one, and so it is also the reason why I’ve been having such strange dreams lately.

Nightmares. They’re called nightmares.

Annihilation‘s poor box office performance is the reason why it won’t hang out in theaters for long, and why it will be making its international debut on Netflix after America is through with it. It wasn’t as though 2016 was anything to shout about for Paramount, but apparently this past year found the American distributor for Garland’s latest cerebral test piece, an adaptation of the first novel in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, enduring one of its worst financial years on record. In attempting to avoid yet another financial face-palmer, Paramount decided to restrict Annihilation‘s theatrical run, electing for the old ‘(in)direct-to-streaming’ method to help soften the blow in international markets.

The financial realities facing movies often have no place in my reviews — I find it boring if not depressing to bring up numbers and statistics, and I’m sure I’ve already lost people here — but I feel an obligation to come to the defense of producer Scott Rudin, who said damn the torpedoes and pushed through Garland’s original vision for the film, despite fears from Paramount over Annihilation posing too much of an intellectual challenge for the general moviegoing public. Rudin did this in the face of Paramount’s competitors making money hand-over-fist with Star Wars and Star Wars spinoffs.

Predictably, the studio’s gamble has been rewarded with a net loss worth tens of millions. As much as we I like to be bombastic in my chastising of those same people for trotting out nine hundred Michael Bay movies a summer, they are inevitably not going to receive anywhere near the credit they deserve for taking a financial risk on something a little out of the ordinary. And Annihilation is way, way, way out in left field. You won’t see anything else like it this year.

The story, as it were, focuses on an all-female expedition into the depths of the unknown — it’s The Descent, but instead of spelunking into hell we’re just going to walk there, armed only with assault rifles and PhDs in various applicable fields of study. Natalie Portman‘s Lena, a professor of cellular biology at Johns Hopkins University who has also served seven years in the Army, is recruited into a team led by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a psychologist, and comprised of paramedics (Gina Rodriguez), physicists (Tessa Thompson) and geologists (Tuva Novotny). Their mission, like all the ones before that have failed, is to find the source of ‘The Shimmer,’ an iridescent bubble that has been slowly encroaching over the marshlands near the American coast after a strange atmospheric phenomenon. They must breach the bubble and prevent it from spreading further, ideally before Wonderland subsumes Manhattan.

Unlike with Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole, however, almost everything inside The Shimmer has the potential to mutilate and eviscerate and — he’s going to say it, isn’t he? — annihilate. The Shimmer is a place where all living things have taken on the DNA of other living things. Genetic mutation has rendered the flora as beautiful as the fauna is terrifying. But the bizarreness doesn’t stop there. Humans trespassing into the unknown themselves begin suffering horrifying transformations, and we know that the last expedition that came here — which involved someone near and dear to Lena’s heart — certifiably went insane. (Anyone else unable to get that footage from the camcorder out of their head?)

The Briton, first a novelist, then a screenwriter and now a director, is one of those storytellers that recognizes that the brain is a muscle and that, like all muscles, it needs to be flexed. This has already been proven true in his directorial debut, a secret-lab-experiment-gone-awry in Ex Machina — a film that took a very scientific approach to proving differences between man and machine. Though far from being the first to broach the subject, Garland fleshed out his drama through nuanced explorations of the human psyche, relying upon established scientific techniques like the Turing Test — a method for measuring a computer’s intelligence and awareness. In the process he created a journey that was both profoundly relatable and distressing.

The best of Annihilation, the spectacular ascension (or descent, if you prefer) into the abstract in the third movement — aptly titled “The Lighthouse” — similarly plays upon the deepest recesses of the mind, opening the floodgates for extrapolation and interpretation. What has created The Shimmer also seems to have exposed the fragility and vulnerability of man — refreshingly represented here by a group of steely-nerved women — in the face of something much bigger, more intelligent, and, unlike in Ex Machina, something entirely unfamiliar. Those climactic moments — wherein Jennifer Jason Leigh vomits a bunch of light in a cave and Natalie Portman dances with a weird duplicate of herself as produced by that same Vomit Light — collectively represent the epitome of why science fiction cinema has such a hold on me.

Annihilation is the reason why I love not only going to the movies, but writing about my experiences with them as well. I felt transformed by this.

* Maybe . . .

Recommendation: A cerebral puzzle left to be deciphered by lovers of smart science fiction/fantasy, Annihilation is what happens when The Thing is cross-bred with the DNA of Predator and The Descent. If you were hooked by Alex Garland’s first directorial outing, get a ticket to this one. In my opinion he has avoided the sophomore slump by producing one of the most exciting and surprising movies of the year. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Can you describe its form?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

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32 thoughts on “Annihilation

  1. Pingback: Month in Review: March ’18 | Thomas J

  2. Your love for this is a major reason I am super anxious to get to it. I really want my husband to make some time so that we can watch this. It sounds really good. Great review, and glad to see you loved it so much.

  3. I still can’t get the camcorder video out of my head man, he puts is hand it and they are wrapping around his arm. Dayum.

    This has so much to think about it. I could watch it over and over

  4. This movie was fuckin’ amazing man. I knew it’d be good when I first heard about it!!

    Gonna write my own piece o’ crap before I read your review, otherwise I’ll probably end up subconsciously stealing your ideas 😛

      • hehehe. I suppose its hard not to subconsciously, ESPECIALLY when writing music. You write a song and realise it sounds almost exactly the same as a song we love haha, its a bitch!

        Take care bud

  5. Pingback: In Memoriam: Stephen Hawking | Thomas J

  6. I too am glad this came to theaters in the U.S. The experience is increased immeasurably on a big screen. Love your reviews. It’s all about quality, not quantity.

    • Very kind of you Mark, I wish I had more time these days to post more. I really do. I envy the consistency of my fellow bloggers — it isn’t easy!

      Annihilation is a movie that downright inspired me. It made me think and got me to learn a few things. I love movies that do that.

      • You and me both mate! Unfortunately my lack of writing is due to my own laziness/mental health than actually being busy IRL. =/ I’m trying to get more done as it is healthy for me, its just so damned hard to get started sometimes!

    • It has basically bombed in the States, making (so far) roughly a quarter of its budget back. It really is a shame. It is a film with interesting, grand ideas and some of the most stunning manifestations of David Cronenbergian body horror that Ive seen. Nothing quite like Annihilation. I loved it for that alone.

  7. You are so right about the financial side of things. Its stupid. At least I’ll be able to watch it soon. As soon as I saw JJL was in it last year I wanted to keep my eye out. Heh our tastes rarely differ buddy!!

    Cannot wait to see this. Awesome review mate, keep it up. You make really interesting observations.

    Heh, and are you gonna give Phantom a second chance? 😛

    • It looks as though PT has just left my area, I will have to wait until it streams to see it unfortunately. It has been difficult getting around lately so I’m a little disappointed I won’t get to see it in theaters.

      And speaking of which — yeah, it is a shame Annihilation isn’t making enough money to get a theatrical release worldwide. But at least this isn’t something like The Cloverfield Paradox that was dropped on us by surprise, a film that proved only worthwhile because of its immediate availability via Netflix.

      I look forward to your thoughts on Annihilation.

      • I’m about to watch it now mate!! 😀

        I didn’t even know about the cloverfield movie, sucks that its crap cos the one with goodman was reall;y good. Netflix really will put out anything

  8. This sounds very interesting. I saw the trailer for this a few weeks back but completely forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder! I’m looking forward to it as I do love a good bit of sci-fi

    • Yeah, it’s unfortunate how Annihilation is not quite getting the shot it deserves of being seen by as big an audience as possible but man, at times you sit there and wonder wtf is going and can see the argument of why some studio heads would be iffy on it lol.

      I do hope you enjoy this when you see it, especially since you like sci fi — it’s definitely unique!

    • My friend, I think you’ll find Annihilation to be pretty sublime as well. It’s a movie that really teases the mind. I absolutely loved it dude. Alex Garland is a gem.

      • Watched it last night, man. You’re not wrong. I absolutely adored it. This was bold and seriously unsettling stuff. Garland may well have beaten his already superb debut. Great start to the year.

        • Thats fantastic to hear man. Ah, this movie goes to some crazy places — it is such a fun one to try and decode. I too tend to think he has bested Ex Machina, which is some feat.

    • Bummer about it not going to international theaters. It needs to be seen on the big screen.

      Edit: it’s best seen on the big screen but it NEEDS to be seen any way you can.

      I think you’ll really go for this one Jeroen

    • He just doesn’t treat his audience like they are kids who need loud, distracting action and dumbed-down storylines that are easy to follow. He is something of a gift to us.

      Jay when I read your great review of this, I kind of knew I was going to love it. How predictable!

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