After making a name for himself as a creative mind with Ex Machina, Alex Garland teamed with Paramount to work on an adaptation of the Southern Reach Trilogy, adapting the first novel Annihilation into a feature film. Praised by people like Stephen King upon the book’s initial release, the story might just make another worthy entry into the thinking man’s science fiction subgenre if the material is fully realized. The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Alex Garland
Written By: Alex Garland
Struggling to comprehend what is ailing her husband, Lena (Portman) is tasked with entering an expanding area that scientists are calling the Shimmer. She is to collect data on what caused the Shimmer to form while seeing if it can be destroyed. For three years, expeditions have entered the Shimmer, but nothing has come back, leaving a shroud of mystery over the entire enclosure.
As Lena and the rest of the party enter the Shimmer, they become more discombobulated by the second. Obstacles and realizations become more haunting and visceral as they travel closer to the Shimmer’s core, leading Lena to uncover some astonishing surprises.
While Annihilation appears to become a favorite among science fiction fans, Paramount Pictures did not share that excitement.
It’s no secret that 2017 was a tough financial year for the studio as they failed to amass even 5% of total box office receipts with flops like Ghost in the Shell, Monster Trucks, mother!, and Downsizing.
Sensing a possibility of being unable to maintain solvency, Paramount has become more careful with its checkbook, punting on projects that might become failures. We saw this behavior recently with The Cloverfield Paradox as Paramount sold the film’s rights to Netflix at a price above production costs in order to turn a quick profit and avoid extra costs that come with marketing. That decision appeared wise as the film went on to become a critical failure.
Similarly, in fear that Annihilation would become unprofitable, Paramount once again sold the distribution rights to the film (excluding territories such as the United States, Canada, and China) to Netflix in hopes that it would raise the film’s earnings potential. The film will premiere on Netflix in those areas in a few weeks time.
The company feared that the movie was “too intellectual” for audiences and that it would lead to a mother!-esque backlash. Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, Paramount is struggling, and this behavior might only delay the inevitable.
Annihilation is Not For Everyone
In a warped sense, Paramount might have been correct in their assessment of Annihilation. This film is nuts.
The term “not for everyone” as it pertains to film brings with it a stigma that those that do not enjoy a certain piece of art are brain-dead buffoons while those that love it are pretentious, philosophical know-it-all’s. The truth lies in the middle — as most things do. You’ll hear this phrase in hundreds of reviews for Annihilation (you’ll even hear reviewers become self-referential about this claim as I am currently). In a way, Annihilationdefies the typical recommendation.
Annihilation is frustrating to say the least. It zigs when you want it to zag. It leaves things open to interpretation. Ultimate satisfaction comes after the movie is over. As you unravel the themes and messages that it has to offer, your desire to push forward into the highly metaphorical and allegorical aspects of the film align directly with your enjoyment.
You can take in the film on a purely visual level (i.e. stick to the tangible elements) and still get some entertainment value, but those same people will complain of plot holes and structure issues. Some people just don’t want to deal with that process when they watch movies, and that’s perfectly fine. Sometimes we forget that personal taste is a factor in critiquing films, no matter how impartial we strive to become. Personally, Annihilation really works, and it’ll go down as one of my favorite films of 2018.
There are multiple ways to interpret Annihilation that will undoubtedly lead to infinite “The Ending EXPLAINED” videos on YouTube. Many will read this review and declare yours truly as certifiably insane, and that’s quite alright (but it still hurts me just a tad on the inside). Annihilation is meant for discussion, making a spoiler free review incredibly difficult. But, the discussion of film is the best part of the medium — and why people like me love film so much.
The Shimmer is Chaotically Beautiful
As for the more concrete elements of Annihilation, its ecosystem is mesmerizing. It’s a shame that many people around the world will never be able to see this movie on the big screen, because Alex Garland certainly made the film for the biggest screen possible.
Some elements allow for some great horror set pieces. Modified creatures have become even more deadly — and even weirder too. Annihilation contains downright frightening body horror aspects to the point where the movie performs better than most horror movies in recent years. Alex Garland creates some undeniably tense and terrifying moments that are very unique.
And yet, as the film shows in due time, nothing about the Shimmer is inherently evil. Things might be destructive, but there’s definitely no agenda to anything that lives within the soapy exterior of the Shimmer. Annihilation is bizarrely stunning when this notion is taken into account. As a physical representation of the self-destructive nature of life, every beautiful shot also contains something to mull over.
With score that keeps finding ways to penetrate you, the sense of atmosphere in Annihilation is truly impeccable.
Annihilation Contains an Amazing Performance from Natalie Portman
At the center of it all is Natalie Portman, who adds a layered performance in a great turn as a military woman turned biologist. At first, many may complain that she feels very wooden, acting akin to a Replicant in Blade Runner. But, as the story progress, you begin to learn more about her past, present, and future which helps to bring understanding to her specific tendencies.
She’s strong and fearless while also quite damaged (many might even say unlikable). Like the movie on a thematic level, she undergoes this mission as a way to find balance, all the while proving that she’s the smartest and most capable person of doing the job.
Anything beyond that is ripe for spoiler discussion and will undoubtedly lead to many different opinions. Portman continues to choose fascinating projects, and we should all pay attention to whatever she has in store for us next.
Challenging and unflinching, Annihilation is a movie that each viewer will remember long after they see it — for better or for worse. Garland proves that he’s one of the more creative minds in Hollywood, expanding familiar tropes and themes into a trippy, wild, and thought-provoking journeythat is the very definition of unique (in that regard, the source material deserves a lot of praise as well).
Annihilation will leave many wanting more, frustrating viewers that prefer straight-forward and concrete stories. However, for those that love a good thinker, Annihilation will provide a ton of thought that ranges from the lofty to the casual.
This film is incredibly messy in the best way possible, and we need more films to adopt this structure.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on Annihilation? Comment down below!
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