Annihilation (2018) : A great start to a promising year of Science Fiction.

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A biologist’s husband disappears. She puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she’s expecting. The expedition team is made up of the biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist.

When it comes to the Science Fiction genre, Alex Garland is slowly creating an impressive filmography but I have to say this is the best piece of cinema he has created in his career. Annihilation was the film no one thought would sell, outside of North America and China the film is being distributed on Netflix and becomes the best exclusive the streaming service has launched. Some people said this was “too smart” of a movie to sell but for I completely disagree. The story of Annihilation was shrouded in completely mystery for the whole run time. Outside of the last twenty minutes the audience has no clue where this movie would be heading. From the beginning it plays with a dream like quality almost as if the audience is hallucinating with the protagonist as she seems to lose her mind to “The Shimmer”. This Shimmer is the mysterious anomaly taking over areas of land, with no one returning survivors. It’s the equivalent to the Ship in Arrival, a piece of mystery that the story tries to unravel while touching on other themes.

Small snippets of Annihilation’s back story is presented through fragmented memories and many people will argue that these aspects of the films were lazily thrown in for emotion and lacked cohesion to the plot. This wasn’t a film that tries to spoon feed you its explanation we are thrown into the protagonist Lena’s mind and we see things through her thoughts. Like Garland said himself this film was not a direct adaption of the original novel, instead it was his memories of what he took from reading the book. Annihilation doesn’t become a direct play on events on what happened inside The Shimmer, instead it becomes Lena’s memories of what happened inside; with all fragmentations intact. The side plots in Annihilation shape a basis of what this film is about and there are many theories all of which I agree with. I love when a film brings out different interpretations from different people, Garland stated that it was a film about self-destruction but this brief statement can be taken in many ways. Was this a metaphor for Cancer? destroying the earth or human body from within? A lot of signs in the film point towards that especially with the character of Dr. Ventress. Personally I believe the film is about self-destruction through guilt and suicide whether metaphorical or physical. While Annihilation meant something else in the book here it signifies the deeper meaning behind the story. The story reminds me of many films I have seen before combined into one, it tries to be a creature feature like The Thing but it’s also smarter than that and tries to find a deeper pocket in science fiction to fit into. The film tries to channel the human impulse to destroy ourselves, from our bodies with alcohol, drugs etc to our lives through many variations and in the case of Lena; the destruction of a relationship. On the surface The Shimmer is destroying the earth on an ecological level but looking deeper you see another context to the film. As well as destruction the Shimmer is creating new things out of the environments ecology which could be seen as a rebirth or recovery from destruction but the film also proves not everyone comes out of self-destruction unscathed. The film reminded me of Under the Skin with its metaphorical meaning but the story played in a more linear sense, which makes me wonder why it was predicted for failure in cinemas by its distributors.

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The main part of the film that I believed lacked was its cinematography, the camera was very still and for a film so hallucinogenic and ethereal, I expected more fluidity to its camera movement. Visually the film was beautiful, the set design and visual effects were amazing  but the cinematography brought me out of the poetic foundation to the film. Bradford Young achieved this fluidity with Arrival in a film with the least beautiful locations to look at yet with all this beauty surrounding Annihilation the camera ignored most of it. Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury took care of the score and I thought it was quite a simple yet effective score which raised the tension through music at the right times. It felt like background noise for most of the film but during the last act of the film the score amps up the electronic score and helps the film come to an impressive finale. The cast all gave good performances, I wish there was more of Oscar Isaac and Jennifer Jason Leigh but the film was carried by Natalie Portman who gave another amazing performance. She was muted and locked into this trance for most this film but she portrayed the break down of her psyche as the film went on which was quite impressive.  Overall the film impressed me more than I expected especially after I liked but didn’t love Garland’s previous work Ex Machina. For me Annihilation is sitting up there as my top film of the year so far. This is a very polarizing film much like last years mother! and Under the Skin but I think most of that stems from the ending. Quite different from the original ending of the novel but it still transfers that message of self-destruction Garland wants to emit to his audience. Annihilation is a feat in science fiction cinema, part Arrival and part Stalker but still its own unique film.

Final Verdict – 8.5

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