Annihilation Drama

'Annihilation' Film Review: Smart Sci-Fi Filmmaking That's Equal Parts Thrilling and Introspective

February 22, 2018Ben MK

If this were your typical review, it might start off mentioning that Annihilation is the sophomore feature from writer/director Alex Garland, or that it's based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. But Annihilation isn't your typical movie, and it deserves far more than the standard boilerplate.

A film that truly merits being experienced on the big screen, Annihilation begins with a fairly straightforward setup. Lena (Natalie Portman) is a former soldier who's now a biologist teaching at Johns Hopkins University, and her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), whom she met while serving in the military, has been missing for the past year. What Lena doesn't know, however, is that Kane was part of an expedition sent in to investigate an incident at Blackwater National Park, the site of an asteroid impact three years earlier, resulting in an anomaly that has been swallowing up the surrounding land.

When Kane mysteriously reappears, Lena's first reaction is that she can now breathe a sigh of relief. Little does she realize that it's only the beginning of a larger mystery. And when her husband's health takes a sudden and rapid turn for the worse, Lena is brought to Area X, where she meets psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the all-female team of scientists, Josie (Tess Thompson), Anya (Gina Rodriguez) and Cass (Tuva Novotny), who are set to enter the anomaly — dubbed "the Shimmer" — next. Hoping to help her husband, Lena volunteers to go in with them, and that is where Annihilation really takes on a life of its own.

Told from Lena's perspective through a flashback structure that sees her recounting her ordeal to a group of men in hazmat suits, the story follows the five women as they enter the Shimmer, tasked with making their way to the lighthouse where the asteroid first struck. Of course, it doesn't take long for their mission to go awry. And as they begin experiencing strange phenomena like memory gaps and encountering lifeforms that cannot be explained by science, it soon dawns on them that the fate that befell the previous expeditions could very well befall them too.

To reveal anything more about the movie's plot would be to spoil the creepy surprises and reality-altering revelations that Garland has planned for viewers along the way. Just know that you really haven't seen anything like this film. From its body horror set-pieces that will make you squirm in your seat to its fantastical imagery, there are many ways that Annihilation carves a niche for itself. And even though its thoroughly bizarre and mesmerizing climax relies too much on questionable CGI for its own good, you won't be able to look away for a second.

Some might be quick to judge this movie as "feminist sci-fi." But if that implies that the film has some kind of agenda, or that it can't be enjoyed by men and women, then that couldn't be further from the truth. What Annihilation is, however, is smart sci-fi filmmaking that's equal parts thrilling and introspective, the likes of which challenges the status quo. And in a time when distribution deals are being decided based on potential box office receipts, it's exactly the type of movie we need more of right now.

Annihilation releases February 23rd, 2018 from Paramount Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality. Its runtime is 1 hr. 55 min.

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