Following his breakout hit Ex Machina, Alex Garland has returned with a new sci-fi stunner in the form of Annihilation. A hypnotic, uncompromising story with genuine thrills and chills, it stands to be one of the most impressive genre films of 2018.
A nightmarish landscape takes its form as a group of female scientists, scholars, and soldiers make their way through the Shimmer; a jungle-like zone where the laws of physics and nature don’t apply. It bears a striking resemblance to Russian avant-gardist Andrei Tarkovsky’s own environmental sci-fi landmark Stalker, but the effect displayed is more psychological than physiological. We watch as the primary characters are ensnared by the metaphysical forces at bay, as a number of captivating, otherworldly horrors to take form.
If Ex Machina revolved around the idea of what humanity means in the face of ever-evolving technology, Annihilation takes this notion a step further by considering the very components of humanity itself. Within this notion, Garland provides a dissection of externalized paranoia we concoct in our imaginations, as the group comes face to face with numerous unnatural creations that are near-hallucinatory. At the same time, he provides a more realistic encapsulation of the real, destructive tendencies that we inflict on others and ourselves - eventually these elements coming together to create one singular organism.
Annihilation aspires to reach the same heights of the greatest works in intellectual sci-fi cinema. In this pursuit, it detaches itself greatly from Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name. Garland’s screenplay (which he wrote as a re-imagining of the original plot via his own recollection) instills a feeling of unease from the start, permeating throughout as the narrative unfolds in non-linear fashion. It lets the viewer attempt to put the pieces together scene-by-scene, while on another level, enabling them to engage deeply with its visual and sensory display to the very end, and then some (thanks to a truly psychedelic end credits sequence).
In this approach, sequences play with the fear of the unknown to great effect; some of which hold the capacity to become iconic through sheer suspense. Garland’s collaborators, much of the same people who worked on Ex Machina deserve credit for enhancing these moments, from the droning dissonant score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, to the uncanny production design by Mark Digby, and the cinematography from Rob Hardy that balances beauty and fright in equal doses.
While the film’s environment is perhaps the most dominant character, Annihilation’s ensemble should not be diminished. Continuing her streak of strong female leading roles, Natalie Portman gives a complex, standout performance as Lena, a biologist seeking answers regarding her husband (Oscar Isaac) and his altered behavior following a previous encounter in the Shimmer. Lena is countered by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the stiff, no-nonsense leader of the expedition with her own reasons for wanting to explore the environment. They are joined by three younger women (Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny) providing ample muscle and brainpower - all of which come in handy for the dangers that eventually emerge. Every actress here does an amazing job and are each given ample character moments and dimension to drive the story forward in separate ways.
Annihilation leaves room for subtle, implicit elements to bear their presence; moments that refuse easy answers and unquestionably will result in argumentative interpretations and discussion on repeat viewings. More than a respectable follow-up to Garland’s debut Ex Machina, Annihilation is everything a brainy sci-fi film should be; a vision that builds on its antecedents to deliver a bold, remarkable, and immersive experience unlike anything in contemporary cinema.
The new film starring Nicolas Cage is a fresh scream into the void.
While there’s enjoyment to be found, Shane Black’s latest could have been so much more.
A crime drama that never rises to the potential of its compelling true-life story.
How do you stop a bad guy with a gun? A small kid with a future gun.
A familiar romantic comedy that turns out to be an all-around crowd-pleaser.
The Meg proves to be a solid summer serving.
Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon star in this enjoyable spy spoof romp.
An entertaining, enraging, inspiring and truly vital work. Blindspotting is a must-see.
Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise outdo themselves yet again.
Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua reteam for what ends up being a lackluster action sequel.
While this departure from Kore-eda is entertaining, it sadly loses quite a bit of the auteur’s voice.
The Rock’s latest is a decently fun time at the movies.
Part exploitation film and part procedural, this Japanese crime drama is a sleazy good time.
An improvement over the previous entry, the blockbuster genre-mix still falls into its new franchise’s trappings.
A rom-com that plays with the rom-com structure with charming results.
Best F(r)iends: Volume 2 features a shift in genre, but is still a worthwhile follow up to Volume 1.
There’s something severely lacking in the follow-up to the beloved Pixar film.
Drew Pearce’s futuristic criminal underworld story makes for a fun and funny good time.
Johnny Knoxville’s attempt at making a Jackass-esque comedy is a failed stunt in itself.
The writer of Saw steps his game up with his new sci-fi gorefest.
Noel Wells and Josh Radnor star in this charming rom-com set in Austin.
Rockie and Marcelo reveal if the Wookiee makes it.
The origins of Han Solo make for a fairly safe and bland summer blockbuster.
Coralie Fargeat’s entry into New French Extremity is a twisted tour-de-force of vengeance.
Rockie and Marcelo grieve together.
The nature vs. nurture debate forms the backbone of this unbelievable story about identical triplets.
A striking portrait of a small Arizona town re-enacting a pivotal moment in their history.
An exceptional documentary about the unmaking of a would-be cult classic of world cinema.
The Avengers battle the mad titan Thanos in the first of two series culminating films.
This thriller set in the punk rock scene will test the patience of many audiences, even at its brisk runtime.