Annihilation, what a sad story it is. Oh, not the film’s story, although that’s not something to perk you up either, I mean the film itself. It’s a mid-budget sci-fi horror film with acclaimed writer/director Alex Garland at the helm. It carries deep themes, is incredibly smart, features a great all-female and very diverse cast and is based off of the cult-classic Southern Reach Trilogy. And the studio had no faith in it what-so-ever. It was horribly marketed and then, after an extremely limited cinema run, was handed over to Netflix. So, the good news is that, if you own Netflix then you can watch this film anytime you want. The bad part is that it’s infuriating because this feels like a film that should be in the cinema.
The story is a little strange and heavily focused on twists and turns, so it’s pretty hard to describe. The basics is that a group of five woman are sent into the Shimmer. A meteor had hit the everglades and this wall of twisted light has been spreading outwards ever since. But the wall is not the problem – within the wall all DNA becomes the same in structure. This means that anything, people, animals, plants and fungi can mix with each other, causing huge mutations. The group wishes only to find answers as to what’s happening. But they soon find that they may follow the path of the previous team.
Alex Garland is one of my favourite writers working today. Having written films like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd and Never Let Me Go and directing Ex Machina, this is a man who has mastered the sci-fi genre. Annihilation keeps up his trend. Everything that made you love those previous films is here in full form. Garland has a good habit of making films that are smart and thought provoking, but also very entertaining. Annihilation is beautiful to look at, even at its most grotesque. And I don’t mean the effects, although they were great, with the exception of two quick but noticeable moments. It’s shot very well and the colours are used perfectly. It feels alien, yet familiar to us. At times like a fairy-tale, at others an unrelenting body-horror. Normally this might be a clash of tones, but it really works here.
This is because among the films many themes are the danger of beauty and the beauty of danger. There is a lot to debate about it thematically – yes, it’s one of those ones. But unlike, say Arrival or Interstella where you are asked to think about what you had seen and what you took from it, but it doesn’t really make you care enough to think on it anymore (or at least they didn’t with me), Annihilation does make me want to talk about it. One thing I definitely took from it was a theme of cancer. I’m sure not many would agree with me, but cancer does get brought up in passing at three moments in the film and the Shimmer itself does feel and in some ways act like a tumour to me. A tumour that’s affecting the planet.
So, yes it does get philosophical at times, but before it starts to feel boring and school-like it entertains you with a dramatic scene or an action or horror moment. There’s a bit involving a bear in this film – I’m not going to go too far into it, but I will just say that it will be my nightmare fuel for a long time. It was easily the most horrifying and haunting thing I have seen in a film in years. There are moments in this film that I can see as being off putting to a few people. The ending is bold and deliberately challenging, which does mean that some will just find it weird. There’s a pretty grim body-horror moment involving a dissection. But, for the most part I’d say it’s very accessible.
In terms of performances, all the cast do a great job. Natalie Portman is sympathetic as our hero. She’s very every-man like, but she she’s also smart and skilled with weapons, so it’s never unbelievable that she can do these things. Jennifer Jason Leigh did bother me at first with this very withdrawn, bizarre performance. But then we got the explanation as to why she’s playing it the way she is and it makes complete sense after that. The other women and Oscar Isaacs do very well too. They are all perfectly playing human, relatable and compelling characters. This is the feminist film that the public is asking for, forget Wonder Woman – a dumb, if entertaining action film with a woman in the lead. A challenging and subtle film that has a point beyond its cast. Which is even more infuriating considering that this film has been side-lined!
My only regret with Annihilation is that I never got to see it in the cinema. This is one of the best sci-fi horror films in years. I’m tempted to say that it’s the best since Garland wrote Sunshine back in 2007. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time and watching it again and again. It’s a slow burn at times, and very graphic in moments, not to mention out right terrifying in others – but it’s more than worth it. It is at least on Netflix, so I’d say give it a watch, at least once. If anything, Annihilation deserves the views.
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