Directed by: Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, Oscar Issacs, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Benedict Wong
I went to the movies the other day to see Alex Garland’s newest film, Annihilation. Before this he wrote and directed an incredible film called Ex Machina which was also his directorial debut. Based on what he did with Ex Machina, I expected a unique science fiction film that delves into some very deep human emotions. What I got was a brutal attack on what makes humans unique and a mind bending head trip of a film. Right up my alley.
I won’t go into the plot too deep as I want to avoid any and all spoilers. Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a biologist and ex military who joins a group of scientists to investigate the “shimmer”, an area of swamp land surrounded by a bizarre force field. That’s a very vague synopsis, but like I said I don’t want to spoil anything.
Natalie Portman is one of those actresses who I either like a little bit or I don’t like at all. I don’t think she’s ever blown me away. In Annihilation I thought she did a solid job in the lead role. She does a great job of playing a bad ass in certain scenes and a flawed woman with a LOT on her mind in others. This film features an all female lead cast and each of them is pretty great. The only exception to that is Gina Rodriguez. Her character was so poorly written and she seemed to force all of her lines. I’d say she was the only bad part of this movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh is a genius in this film, playing an apathetic and stern leader. Tessa Thompson was pretty good, certainly a much different role than her last film, Thor: Ragnarok. Oscar Issacs is fucking magnetic as always. Seriously why is he so damn good at his job? My favorite performance in this film comes in the form of Benedict Wong. I can’t really go into why I loved his performance so much without treading into spoiler territory, but he was really impressive in the few scenes he had.
I do have to acknowledge the visual effects in this film. I could go on and on about how I really don’t care for CGI, but I’ll try and behave. Annihilation relies on CGI to create some creatures and of course the shimmer, but I was pretty impressed and happy with how much of the film was real. There’s a lot of beautiful images, some of them are a bit grotesque, but still beautiful. It’s a good example of how to use CGI to help the film and not create the film.
I left the theater with an awful tenseness in my chest. Annihilation is a movie that will scare the hell out of you, make you question a LOT and force you to the edge of your seat, but it moves slow. There are a few scenes that have some cool action in them, but most of the suspense and horror comes from the silence and uncertainty of what comes next and it’s done very well. Very similar to his last film, Alex Garland puts the humanity and what the characters are going through before any kind of action or cheap jump scares.
I think a lot of people will see this movie and hate it because it allows the viewer to come up their own conclusions, but this movie stands out to me for being a bit of a generic sci fi film on the surface, but it has a lot more buried beneath.