A biologist named Lena (Natalie Portman) signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition in a place called The Shimmer, after her husband returns gravely ill after being stuck there for quite some time. Question is: Will she find the answers to save her husband during this menacing journey? Or is she putting her own life at risk for completely nothing?
Annihilation will not be for everyone. Let me repeat that just to make it clear, ANNIHILATION WILL NOT BE FOR EVERYONE. Ah, that felt good. This is a film that will mess with your head and make you think for days, perhaps even weeks, after your first viewing. I have been pondering the film myself, and the many questions and themes still have me a bit lost in thought. That being said, I found the film to be excellent with vivid visuals, terrific acting, defined direction, and superbly creative writing. However, what intrigued me most was its examination into the human psyche.
Annihilation is gorgeous and immersive, but a bit distancing of a story. The setup is very unique in how it approaches – And not to be a spoiler, since this happens in the first few scenes of the movie, but Lena survives going into The Shimmer. By giving her accounts to medical and governmental people, is how the story is told. A bold strategy, for sure, but one that ultimately pays off.
By telling the audience she survives upfront, one would think this risks losing them and any tension that may befall her later on. That, though, is not the case. You never not feel engaged with the story or its characters and that is all due to an incredibly complex plot, written and directed by Alex Garland.
While not “exciting” in an action film sense, Annihilation’s excitement is more in its sheer ambition and lofty themes. By giving away so many details about the ending up front, Garland seems to be emphasizing that the film isn’t about who lives and who dies, but more about it’s treacherous and subdued journey Lena and the others take into the unknown – And all the effects it has on them emotionally.
Garland is more interested in using The Shimmer to explore the human urge toward self-destruction, one of the films biggest driving themes. Each of the women either have a reason for either self-hatred, guilt, the loss of a loved one, depression, substance abuse, or something else entirely. Which very well may explain what they’re doing on this seemingly suicidal mission to begin with. I found it immensely interesting how Garland uses the backstories of the women to illustrate what might push someone to venture deeper and deeper into dangerous territories beyond all common sense.
Thoughtful and philosophical, here, we have a movie that’s more interested in the nature of humanity and the urges that drive us rather than the individual lives. That is what makes this film special. Characters are no longer people, but more an extension as a display of the themes instead.
Annihilation and its intricacy will indeed fascinate, as long as the viewer is prepared to open their minds and engage in a true thought provoking production. For a genre that usually makes people consider the possibilities of the future, this film fights that trend, making its audiences walk away with a lot more to ponder about.
My apologies if you found this review a bit vague, but I want to keep it as such. Go see this flick for yourself and discover all the secrets within The Shimmer.
By Nick Weninger