Three years ago, writer and director Alex Garland stunned us with his directorial debut Ex Machina, a thrilling and unique sci-fi picture with a lot of punch behind it. It was a debut that felt like a work done by someone at the height of their career, or certainly with more experience at least. Prior to that, Garland wrote the script for Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. After his latest, Annihilation, Garland proves again he’s one of the best sci-fi writers/directors working today.
The film centers around Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist, whose husband returns home a year after disappearing and shows obvious signs of dissonance and a deep disturbance. Wanting to find out what happened to him, Lena joins a group of scientists on an expedition, where the laws of nature seem to not apply.
To be honest, to dive any deeper into the story would be a disservice to the film. Garland succeeds in making the viewer anxious around each turn, not sure how the story is going to develop. Annihilation presents a fantastically mysterious world and, despite being based on a novel, it is bitingly original and very well executed. It’s a gripping tale of survival and mystery, with Area X being a terrifying, yet gorgeous world-within-a-world.
Annihilation is a wonder to behold and a gorgeous film visually. Uses of color and unique floral and creatures call wonders to the movie’s art direction. Gruesome and scary sights are nightmare-fuel level at times, and the film has some moments of genuine scares. Garland’s direction and story whip the viewer around every turn and keep them guessing even at its climactic moments. The last third is a cerebral thrill ride that stays with you long after the credits roll. Awesome stuff.
I draw a few comparisons in my mind to 2016’s Arrival, although that might just be me. However, where that film almost explicitly stated its message and meaning, Annihilation does the complete opposite. It answers its questions, for the most part, but in a way where the viewer still has to think about it. At times, inferring for yourself and connecting the logical dots presented is the way to figure out what’s happening. I had to travel to see the film and found myself thinking to myself on the way back instead of talking to my buddy about it. I couldn’t put it into words for a while, I just had to reflect on it.
I’m not saying Annihilation is the “second coming” for sci-fi, as it has some faults. A couple of elements are presented and seemingly forgotten about later on. What it is, though, is an engrossing and incredible movie that demands to be seen on the big screen. Paramount and Netflix’s decision to release it in theatres in the U.S., Canada, and China only now and on Netflix early March is one invested in monetary reasons alone. Paramount is afraid people won’t see this, much like they were afraid for The Cloverfield Paradox. Where Annihilation differs from Cloverfield, however, is it’s far too intelligent and niche of a film for mainstream audiences. While Cloverfield was flat-out bad and a straight-to-DVD quality film, Annihilation is an excellent cerebral thriller that really should be seen on the big screen.
Annihilation Overall 4.5/5
Overall, Alex Garland’s Annihilation shows why he’s an expert in the genre. The film’s very few faults do nothing to hold back its power and intrigue. Stepping into Area X is a gorgeously frightening journey, and I recommend everyone take that journey. We need to support excellent sci-fi like this and Blade Runner 2049 so that we get more of it. If it’s near you, see it in theatres. If not, check it out on Netflix as soon as possible.
Annihilation is in theatres now in the United States, Canada, and China. It hits other countries on Netflix on March 12th. If it is not playing near you, the Blu-ray is already up for order from Amazon.