Annihilation – Review

Annihilation is a film about a group of female scientists who set out to explore a mysterious and abandoned section of the southern United States called The Shimmer (a.k.a. Area X).

Quick interjection, before I begin: If you’re wondering now if you should see this movie, the short answer is A TRILLION TIMES YES.

Originally created by Jeff VanderMeer and brought to life by Alex Garland (Ex Machina), Annihilation offers a look at an apocalyptic dream (or nightmare–you decide) that forces us to rethink about ourselves as tiny, vulnerable humans in an ever-changing universe.

Earlier on in the production process, the film received the criticism that it might be “too intelligent” and “too complicated” for audiences. Allow me to comment on that by saying 1) Poor you if you can’t even enjoy the film, let alone understand it, and 2) We need to start putting quality, original content higher up on the  pyramid and giving more praise to people who can craft heart-wrenchingly great stories. We also need to take a step back from remaking every movie ever made before the new millennium. Just please stop. Please. 

Anyway, I refuse to bore you with a long, regurgitated summary of the plot, so if words like “mutations” and “shimmer”–used in the film to describe ecological circumstances–don’t intrigue you, then maybe you should read the book first. Only then will you begin to understand the massive mind-boggle that this story presents and perhaps even its bird’s eye view of the human mind.

In a recent Talks at Google presentation, Alex Garland spoke in depth about the making of Annihilation, especially about his own creative process when it came to adapting the book and bringing it to life. “This is a suburbia to psychedelia story,” he said when describing the the film.

What exactly does that mean? Well, after having seen the film, I can honestly say that he accomplishes this and more. If one’s only concept of psychedelia is a kaleidoscope of colours, then prepare to be amazed by the stunning visuals of this film. From beginning to end, Annihilation offers a crescendo-like presentation of atmospheric and visceral scenes. At times you will be metaphorically or literally on the edge of your seat; at other times, wanting to look away, but not knowing how. It’s possible that some scenes of the film might make you question the nature of reality. A few scenes did that for me.

And if you’re not a huge fan of the sci-fi genre and are just in it for the ride, then you’re sure to be impressed by the utterly beautiful and unintentionally enchanting setting of the film, with its thought-provoking mutations and what Garland described as “offness.”

I can honestly vouch that this film made me feel as though I was watching footage from a near, earth-like planet. The flora and fauna alone is worth studying. In this article from Collider, production designer Mark Digby said an interesting thing about the making of the flora and fauna in the film, “Our general design ideology that we share with Alex is to keep everything with a scientific integrity.” They actually went as far as to look at plants and animals from Fukushima and Chernobyl. Clearly, the production team did a fair bit of research to stay as close to reality as possible. And my mind was most certainly blown by their conceptualizations of the Shimmer’s flora and fauna. So expect mutations that inspire both wonder and fear at the same time; as the film progresses and the deeper you go into the Shimmer, the more questions surface and the quicker all reference points, direction, and sanity is lost.

Not only did this film have an incredibly high production value, it’s also worth mentioning that the performances by all of the actors were phenomenal and for some could quite possibly merit an Oscar nomination or even a win. As per usual, Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac delivered the incredible rawness that they’re famous for, as did Jennifer Jason Leigh and Gina Rodriguez, who brought their own unique talents to the table. These are not to be missed.

When it comes to my overall rating of this film, I would give it a solid 9/10. Why isn’t it a full 10/10? The answer is simple. There was a tiny palmful of scenes that look like they could have been omitted. But before you let that cloud your judgement, do consider that these scenes were not “wastes of space,” but added character development. Some may consider it unnecessary, but I found them to be more personal touches on Garland’s part.

Another thing to note was that the film did burn slowly in the beginning. Having read the book first, I was constantly eager for the next scene, eager for the visual experience as well as another person’s interpretations and theories made into a film.

So I guess here’s a warning to those who have already read Annihilation: the movie only follows some major parts of the book and diverges greatly in others, but it was all enjoyable nonetheless. Just forget about what you read for a little bit, at least until the movie’s over and you can discuss it with other people. This way, you’ll expect the unexpected.

And to those who haven’t read the book: Prepare to have your mind blown to smithereens.

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