Coming straight to Netflix for the international audience, the first thought after watching Alex Garland’s Annihilation is the regret of not watching it in the theatre. This is, of course, after you have been consumed by the exhilarating soundtrack and are shaken by the terrifying plot.
After Ex Machina, director Garland focuses on the extra-terrestrial in Annihilation and weaves a web of thrill and leaves the movie with an open end.
Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer (the first part of his Southern Reach trilogy), Annihilation tells the tale of an anomaly – the Shimmer. Formed by a meteor which landed on a lighthouse on the Southern Coast, the Shimmer has consumed all proper expeditions to the area till now. No one knows what is hiding inside The Shimmer. The only person to ever come outside of the force field’s soapy membrane is a soldier – Kane (Oscar Isaac) – who has been mentally and physically shattered by his experiences. Garland shows us Kane’s woes pretty early in the movie to establish a fear in the audience’s heart.
As Kane’s wife Lena agrees to join a team to the area, we see the action first hand from her eyes. The members of the team which ventures inside the now-expanding Area X (the inside of the Shimmer) are all flawed and are struggling in their personal and professional life in some way or the other. Thus their battle for survival and venture into the unknown juxtaposes with their internal struggle – one which has been shown remarkably.
What complements the somber nature of the plot is the creepily beautiful setting inside the Shimmer. The CGI, though inconsistent at times, is used with good effect. The mood is driven by some haunting background score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. The cast is impeccable with Portman leading the pack as the conflicted Biologist. The all-female expedition team is a conflicted batch as they disagree among themselves and this conflict has been conveyed very soundly. The rest of the cast members are Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Ventress, a psychologist and the leader of the expedition; Gina Rodriguez as Anya Thorensen, a paramedic; Tessa Thompson as Josie Radek, a physicist and Tuva Novotny as Cass Sheppard, a surveyor, and geologist. The movie has an all-female cast and makes no extra fuss about it.
The movie has a clear Lovecraftian horror motif in it, with a strong focus on existentialism. The plot makes a point of trivializing life and the human form to make sense of the grand scheme of things. Not only there is horror, the movie is apologetically obnoxious. Biological mutations and corruption of form are rampant inside the Shimmer, details of which are too gory to mention in this piece.
The third act of the Movie is a sudden and shocking departure from the rest of the movie as the protagonist, Lena, reaches the epicenter of the corruption – The Lighthouse. This segment reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey with a haunting soundtrack and stunning psychedelic patterns. Few may even sense a connection to the cult Alien franchise (John Hurt’s character in Alien is even named Kane). From then on, the movie gets weirder and weirder as Lena is left alone with 10 minutes of silence, her actions defining the movie. As the author VanderMeer puts it – “Silence has its own problems”. There are some problems with the end as we enjoy the journey more than the destination. That being said, the open-endedness of the plot leaves a stunning potential for a sequel.
This movie walks on the strange problem of “Netflix offloading”, something which Production houses are relying on these days. Annihilation got a release in the American, Canadian and Chinese markets while audience from other countries has to be content with watching it on their laptops. The fear of the movie being too intellectual and confusing is somewhat correct. You can understand quite easily why the movie would get a polarizing reaction as everyone may not enjoy the scientific mumbo-jumbo. If you are not watching the movie with an open mind or if you are not a happy consumer of Sci-Fi stuff, stay away!
Annihilation, despite some flaws, is a pretty good watch if you give it a chance. It holds you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. With the potential of a sequel, it can only get better from here on.