‘Annihilation’ Review: A Visceral, Visual Treat That Bends Reality
The sci-fi genre in the movies is often a place where one tests the boundaries of the human imagination. Annihilation, directed by Alex Garland (who debuted with the critically acclaimed Ex Machina), is also a mind-bender that weaves the real and the imagined dexterously to create something that stays with you long after the end credits roll.
The film, available on Netflix, boasts a stellar cast with Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac.
Before we go on, watch the trailer here:
Based on a science fiction novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, the plot revolves around a biologist (Portman) who voluntarily accompanies a group of (female) scientists to get at the heart of an unexplained phenomenon that has caused an expanding “Shimmer” around a lighthouse.
Annihilation is not a Netflix Original. The film has been produced by the American film studio, Paramount Pictures. After the first cut was screened for the film conglomerate, they deemed it “too intellectual” and “too complicated”. Post a bit of back-and-forth, the film ended up on Netflix - after a release in select cinemas (in China, Canada, and the US). The film still made 11 million USD on its opening weekend, thus winning the battle, but losing the war to Marvel’s Black Panther.
That being said, let’s get on with the review.
The story is shown in flashbacks. In the present, biologist Lena (Portman) - they all go only by their first names - is the only one, apart from her soldier husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), to make it out of the Shimmer alive. Kane has returned after being MIA in the Shimmer for more than a year but remembers nothing of the time he spent there during his mission.
As his health rapidly disintegrates, the US government quarantines the couple where Lena learns the true nature of Kane’s military mission. To figure out what happened to him, Lena volunteers to go into the Shimmer (that is expanding at an alarming rate), with a group of scientists. What she finds there will stay with you for a very long time.
What feels like a massive acid trip is scientifically explained to the audience. The authenticity of this science, I cannot comment on, since it does feel a bit far-fetched, but it definitely does its job of challenging one’s mind. Couple this with motifs of self-destruction (cheating spouses), grief (death of a child), and one’s own mortality (a cancer diagnosis) that come with each of the protagonists’ background - Annihilation weaves all of this into visually compelling intelligent conversations.
The cast could not have been better picked. Each of the women slip into their characters with perfection, playing it up just enough to make us want to know their stories more.
The film doesn’t shy away from gore as demanded by the premise, even though it’s kept at a minimum and is balanced by what one would consider the Biblical Eden. This certainly makes Annihilation stand out from the usual fare of science fiction films that spew blood from every pore.
Annihilation creates the Shimmer with care. The imagery is as colourful as it’s visceral with animals and plants evolving with graphic precision. Even malignant growths here have a picturesque quality. Bringing in a Nolanesque quality in the cinematography, Garland uses the camera to keep the intrigue alive. Even the music hits the right notes, building up to the tension in the film.
Annihilation is what happens when beautiful visions and vivid nightmares come together in a seamless dream. This one is a must-watch.