There’s something to be said for some genuine minimalism…
It’s a rare yet special thing when someone tries to make some genuinely genre bending and conscience shifting storytelling that embraces something more than a little weird. Annihilation is a bold piece of filmmaking that we’ll admit not everyone will enjoy this truly bold sci-fi effort but it will have plenty of people talking long after the movie is over.
Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist and former soldier, joins a mission to uncover what happened to her husband inside Area X – a sinister and mysterious phenomenon that is expanding across the American coastline. Once inside, the expedition discovers a world of mutated landscape and creatures, as dangerous as it is beautiful, that threatens both their lives and their sanity.
With Annihilation; writer/director Alex Garland takes it to the next level that he showed us glimpses of in Ex-Machina as the very nature of humanity gets put on the table in a narrative that is not only heady and intelligent but a true gamble as it poses just as many questions as it answers allowing the threat of the unknown to turn back on ourselves.
Make no mistake, Garland throughout his career has never been afraid to try something a little different, but this time out with his adaptation of the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer he is aiming for territory that only the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tartovsky have ever hit in the past.
It’s a visually stunning affair and he allows for it all to play out in such a way that our frontal cortices are simply in overdrive from minute one. He lays it all out in such a subtle way that it’s the quietest mind f*** we’ve had on a cinematic level in quite some time.
It’s actually rather insidious as he takes human drama, high concept science-fiction, action and nasty elements of horror and rolls into a ball….that oh by the way is lead by an almost entirely female cast, which in a genre like science fiction is pretty well unheard of.
It looks great and follows and natural emotional progression given the nature of why they are all in behind ‘The Shimmer’ and even as it gets weirder and weirder it’s a very humanistic tail because what makes us more self aware of the human condition then being confronted with the reality that their might actually be more than that.
Rather than looking for a grand answer, it actually asks some even bigger questions and in the spirit of films that have come before this one, it’s exactly what this movie needed to be doing. Because it’s not about discovering what’s behind some mysterious encroaching force it’s about making peace with our own internal development and personal issues. The best science-fiction out there actually makes us look inward, and this succeeds on almost every level thanks to a very solid ensemble cast.
Anchored by the excellent Natalie Portman, this film is a subtle little reminder that woman can more than carry any kind of picture without it seeming like a ‘woman’s film’ or something with a ‘feminist agenda’. Portman is a character at odds, not only with what her husband had to go through but with how it has changed her and is looking for anything to give her an answer.
Sadly Jennifer Jason Leigh is really the weak point of the film as her dynamic with Portman’s character comes off as a little awkwardly gruff at times. We buy her motivation, but it kind of gets thrown to the side of everything that is happening to these characters.
Thankfully the likes of Gina Rodriguez as the pragmatic yet ultimately terrified Anya who can’t come to grips with what is happening to the world around her and Tessa Thompson as Josie Radek ultimately finding peace in this new environmental chaos play off of Portman’s character very well while Oscar Isaac plays the loved one in distress…and pretty darn well as he never dominates the frame knowing how to provide support in the overall ensemble.
It’s the very crux of the genre itself to have a story and characters who are willing to embrace the unknown…but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily have to like it either. Every character in this story is a melding of emotion and pure logic, and that’s why it works because it is the scariest elements of the human experience in a story for our viewing please.
Ultimately, Annihilation probably won’t be the movie that most people want as it is akin to something more art house minimalist (despite some gorgeous production design) then spectacle based, but it builds such a fantastic foundation from the roots of genuinely thought provoking science fiction that has come before it and even if you aren’t all that sure you enjoyed it, you’ll immediately know that you want to see it again.