Movie Review: Annihilation
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Director: Alex Garland
by Jason Koenigsberg
A grieving biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into an unknown place where the laws of science do not apply in Annihilation, the new film from Alex Garland after his massively successful debut Ex Machina (2015). There is no sophomore slump for this filmmaker, he picks up right where he left off with another phenomenal story about ideas that make us human and challenges its audience and rewards them. Between this and Black Panther, 2018 is off to a very strong start and February is officially no longer a dumping ground for movies that the studios have no faith in.
The opening shot is of Natalie Portman dressed in all white framed symetrically in a middle square. She is being interrogated by scientists in what we can assume is the end of her journey. The first shot is intentionally the films most generic since the rest of the movie is filled with beautiful striking images and some of the most outstanding cinematography anyone could ask for. Early on in the film her husband (Oscar Isaac) mysteriously returns from his classified military assignment after missing for a year, but trouble ensues and he is quickly hospitalized by a secret government agency. Portman, a biology professor at Johns Hopkins, is recruited by Jennifer Jason Leigh as part of a team of all female scientists going into “the shimmer” a mystifying, colorful bubble that has been expanding over the past three years after an unknown element crashed on earth. This was where her husband returned from. Inexplicably, whatever goes into “the shimmer” never comes out. Her husband the exception to this rule has no recollection of where he was or what happened to him.
Annihilation succeeds first and foremost because of the gorgeously grotesque imagery. It’s haunting visuals will stay with you long after the movie is over. Even the end credits sequence is done in a gracefully enigmatic way, I wanted to stay and watch them as the colors swept across the screen and think about the visuals I had just witnessed. Once it’s images are embedded in your head they will start to provoke your imagination, the way the best science fiction films are supposed to. If the viewer can accept the visuals and ideas that Annihilation throws at you they are guaranteed to be challenged and rewarded on an intellectual and emotional level with ideas presented on science, evolution, feminism, cancer, love, and death. Annihilation also features a few genuinely frightening moments and its jungle/swamp setting is so stunning that it makes all of the action and dialogue both refreshing and alluring as the characters go further into “the shimmer” the viewer gets sucked in deeper as well. The final haunting shot is also superb, reminiscent of the science fiction classic Blade Runner (1982).
There is a lot to be said and taken from Annihilation that makes it a film people will most likely be discussing and dissecting for years to come. The feminist message may seem blatant with all of the main characters being women brandishing machine gun artillery as they venture into the unknown while the sole male character lies on his deathbed, but it has so much more to say than that. Annihilation is about our society and how there is so much we do not know about science and nature, and if something disrupts our existence humanity may not have all the answers to search for the cure. From watching Annihilation I realized even more how Alex Garland’s first film Ex Machina was a feminist story as well, (spoilers ahead) about a machine under the guise of a beautiful woman that circumvents the actions of two very smart men that try to manipulate her. They fail because of their own sexual desires, attraction and feelings for her. She succeeds because she feels nothing for them. Annihilation joins Ex Machina as two of the smartest and most thought provoking films of the decade.
This is what I always think of when I hear the word ‘Annihilation’