A thought-provoking, ambiguous science fiction tale.
While science fiction films have been a staple of Hollywood since its inception, it appears as if the novelty of the genre has seemingly lost its luster. No longer are the days of original works such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars that marked the height of the genre. Presently, most science fiction films are the result of adaptations of popular written works. One such example is the recent film adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 science fiction novel “Annihilation”, as the book captured the attention of a young upstart direction in Alex Garland of Ex Machina fame. Throw in once of the few survivors of the Star Wars prequels, Academy Award winner Natalie Portman, and Annihilation was surely bound to capture the attention of genre purists and moviegoers alike.
Annihilation sees former Army soldier turned professor of cellular biology Lena (Natalie Portman) struggling to cope with the disappearance of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), a co-vert soldier. When Kane suddenly re-appears and reveals to be fatally ill, Lena and Kane are taken by a government security force to Area X, a secret government compound nearby a mysterious force-field called “The Shimmer”. The lead psychologist of the compound, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) reveals to Lena Kane and a team of soldiers went into “The Shimmer” to investigate the area, and she and a team of scientists (Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny) plan to do the same. Lena joins them on this expedition in an attempt to discover the source of “The Shimmer’s” power, not knowing the horrors that lie within.
Director Alex Garland has become somewhat of a critical darling after the rave reviews his directorial debut, Ex Machina, earned. Clearly Garland has an eye for science fiction, as he is able to take a fairly low budget and make Annihilation into one of the more imaginative sci-fi films of recent memory. The special effects are nothing short of breathtaking, and the realization of “The Shimmer’s” environments and the creatures that inhabit it are an achievement in the genre. Garland’s screen writing talents are also put on display, as the film constantly leaves viewers pondering what exactly is occurring and leaving it up for their own interpretation instead of spoon-feeding them. While some may find this frustrating, others who prefer their movies with a little bit of smarts to them are in for a treat.
The performances also lend themselves well to the film. Natalie Portman has become a stalwart actress in Hollywood, and Annihilation is another example of her emotional acting prowess. Jennifer Jason Leigh has somehow revived her career, and her supporting performance in the film serves as a reminder of how talented of a performer she has been in her relatively unnoticed career. Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez also stand out in the film, and show they have bright careers in their futures as members of the crew on the expedition.
The film does get off to somewhat of a slow start, and while most of it is due to developing characters and the story, some may find the film’s pace slacking. While the film should be commended for its mystery and ambiguity, it does leave viewers in a confused state. Certain reveals in the film aren’t explained thoroughly and have the potential to leave audiences dumbfounded walking out of theaters, and that lack of explanation will leave them wondering “what was that?”. It’s a daring risk for the filmmakers to take, but not all may find it to be a rewarding experience.
Annihilation boasts a game cast and a director furthering his career en route to becoming one of the few auteurs in Hollywood due to his visual style and provocative ideas. However, the film’s lack of resolution definitely leaves much to be desired despite its intriguing premise and ideas presented. Annihilation is a visually rich, thought-provoking, ambiguous science fiction thriller that is sure to please genre enthusiasts, but also more than likely leave general audiences scratching their heads as the head for the exits at the same time.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars. Pay low matinée price.
Annihilation stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Issac, and Benedict Wong. It is in theaters February 23rd.