When you thought Alex Garland couldn’t outdo Ex Machina, he makes this.
Synopsis: Lena, a biologist and former soldier, joins a mission to uncover what happened to her husband inside Area X – a sinister and mysterious phenomenon that is expanding across the American coastline. Once inside, the expedition discovers a world of mutated landscape and creatures, as dangerous as it is beautiful, that threatens both their lives and their sanity. (Paramount Pictures)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tessa Thompson
Writer: Alex Garland
Director: Alex Garland
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 115mins
For showtimes and more, check out Annihilation on movietimes.com.
Most films don’t take any chances anymore so it was refreshing to see this film try something different with great success. Describing the film may be a challenge but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it serves as a testament to how ambitious it was. Of course it’s inevitable that some won’t understand what’s going on which is fair, however, the beauty of the story is that it is up to interpretation, especially the end, so there’s isn’t a wrong answer and it will surely create further discussion afterwards. It challenges viewers by forcing them to think, something that doesn’t happen nearly enough anymore.
The story was about a former army biologist named Lena (Portman) who, along with an expedition, ventures into a mysterious force called the Shimmer to try and save her dying husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), a soldier and the only one to have survived the Shimmer. The Shimmer was a mysterious force that was expanding across the American coastline. To try and understand it and/or find a way to stop it, Lena joined a group of women from various scientific fields, Ventress (Leigh), Josie Radek (Thompson), Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), and Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) to enter the Shimmer.
The story was told from Lena’s perspective as the only survivor from the Shimmer which shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise but this fact will loom larger later on. In order to understand Lena’s motivations and her relationship with Kane, the film offered a series flashbacks that popped up throughout the first section. Some may find it a little slow, however, it establishes the Shimmer and all the weirdness that came with it. The sheer unpredictability of their environment and the fact that we already knew who survived added to the suspense.
While it easily could have showed more than it did, the film showed the right amount of restraint in order to showcase its environment and complex characters. The production and design and cinematography worked hand in hand to produce an environment that was so beautiful to look through its use of color and imagination enough so that it became another character in its own right. The score and sound design should equally be commended as it helped to heighten the suspense and created a palpable sense of dread throughout.
Over the course of the expedition, the film offered evidence of what Kane faced during his time in the Shimmer. It may feature plenty of beautiful imagery, it also featured plenty of disturbing imagery as well. These characters were definitely put through the ringer but the smaller moments between them were equally as compelling to watch. Though the supporting characters could have been more developed, they showed enough complexity to remain interesting. What set them apart was that each had a different interpretation of what was happening which will surely mirror the different interpretations of viewers.
What will inevitably a source of contention will be the ending. While it was one of the most beautiful sequences in a sci-fi film, many will struggle to understand it all though maybe that’s the point. Without giving anything away, it will mean different things for different people. It may not have all the answers but it’s better that way. Either way, it will be talked about long into the future.
The acting was excellent throughout with Portman being the obvious stand out as Lena. She delivered yet another strong, emotional performance. She did an admirable job at carrying the load here during the roller coaster ride that was the film. Leigh perhaps stands out the most character development wise among the supporting cast as the team leader Ventress but most will remember Rodriguez scene-stealing performance as Thorensen. Thompson and Novotny were good as well, however, it was the chemistry between the four actresses that made the film.
Overall, this was an amazing and beautiful sci-fi thriller with a strong and compelling narrative unlike many films out there. It will challenge and force viewers to think which doesn’t happen nearly enough anymore. It’s definitely ambitious so some may not get it but that’s what makes it so great as it is open to interpretation. It’s a shame that Paramount gave up on this by selling it’s overseas rights to Netflix because it should be seen on the big screen. Hopefully this won’t hurt it at the box office because more films like this deserve to be made.