I find myself perplexed in attempting to begin this review properly. Dear readers, I have come upon a magnum opus, a film which ought to be heralded until humanity has become extinct, or perhaps afterward, when the surviving canines figure out how to use Netflix. Ten minutes into this film I knew I loved it. The sound, the effects, the acting, and the shots are spectacular….this is an unbelievably magnificent piece of cinema.
Annihilation is also an extremely complex work, with depth and subtlety the likes of Under The Skin or It Comes At Night could not deliver. Neither of those are great films, by the way, albeit for very different reasons. Anyway, Natalie Portman is riveting throughout the film as the biologist Lena. She travels into a strange and unknown region known as The Shimmer, with 4 other highly intelligent women. That’s the setup, I suppose, but the film shows quite a bit outside its main narrative to supplement the story and character development, which was a wise decision. I will not talk much more about the characters, as I believe many of their traits are notable plot points themselves, and it is better to let you experience it. I have not read the novel, and I am aware it is very different from the film, so I do not know how comparable it would be, or whether fans of the source material would appreciate the alterations to the narrative. Regardless, the film stands alone beautifully.
All of the creature designs are marvelous. There’s a great deal of ingenuity with all of the visuals actually, but I cannot even properly praise much without heavy spoilers, sadly. However, I can say that this film defies conventional storytelling tropes and exhibits many somewhat ambiguous moments and ideas. I have heard others discuss the film and I am amazed at the wild (and often directly impossible) theories people have concocted for this film. Annihilation is the sort of movie which sparks discussion in a well-deserved manner. It is comparable to Shane Carruth’s Primer in its intricacy. No proverbial punches are pulled for simplicity, and I am very glad for it.
I must pay special attention to the fact that the film almost exclusively contains women in strong, smart, individualized roles. Every actress gives a top-notch performance. Sometimes I hear of issues with female characters not being written effectively, or much of Hollywood neglecting to make films that do not center around male characters. The real problem is twofold; most of the female-driven films are brain-melting simple comedies, and the best, smartest films focused on women tend to be smaller in budget and scope. The end result is that Annihilation will not even make 1/5 the box office returns of Ghostbusters (2016). That is a shame, but it is true that most audiences would much rather see Black Panther than Annihilation.
The music goes from haunting and melancholic clean guitar tracks to insane, atmospheric, psychedelic pieces. I sat here for a full 5 minutes trying to figure out the genre under which the latter bunch of music would fall, and I had to give up because, in an epiphany, I understood that it can’t be so easily classified. It is mesmerizing, however.
Annihilation is easily Salient. However, it is uncompromisingly dense and difficult to parse. Alex Garland is a talent worth remembering, with certainty. I could not recommend it to any who do not wish for a heavy thinking piece, yet I hope those who read my work here will enjoy one of the smartest films this critic has witnessed.