Writer/Director Alex Garland’s latest trip into the metaphysical and biological plain of existence is a mind f*** of a film from the opening to the closing frame. It’s a movie that toys with the notions of cellular mutation, extra terrestrial life, and deities with equal consideration. When contemplating the nature of existence, Garland knows that the language of life is science, but he has never been one to skirt the idea of a spiritual reflection in his existential adventures. ‘Annihilation’ puts all the cards on the table and asks the viewer to interpret what they are experiencing with care. Many will draw different conclusions about the films mind bending ending, but there is no question that audiences will be thinking about what they’ve seen for quite some time after they leave the theater.
Based on a bestselling novel, ‘Annihilation’ tells the story of a an anomaly that arrives outside a small lighthouse and begins to expand out from the coast. The anomaly begins as a shimmery flash of light, but expands into a metaphysical barrier over a three year period. The government has sent multiple teams through the glowing boundary that they call “the shimmer” and nobody has ever come back. Until one day a soldier named Kane (Oscar Isaac) shows back up at his home after a year behind the glowing wall of death. His wife, Lena (Natalie Portman), has thought him dead for some time and is overtly emotional when he shows up out of nowhere. However, she is also a scientist and his lack of knowledge about anything that’s happened to him for a year seems highly suspect to her. Sadly, before he can answer anything he begins bleeding and is rushed into an ambulance.
It doesn’t take long for the government to show up outside the ambulance and rush the two of them off to a secret facility. From this point, we meet a handful of female scientists that are about to head into the “shimmer”. The diverse group, played by Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tuva Novotny, all get just enough dialogue to flesh them out as more than simple cannon fodder for the nightmare that lies ahead.
It’s at this point that the film really begins and it feels like a female version of ‘Predator’ for a little while. There are a number of clever jump scares and lots of time wondering what is beyond the tree line. However, it doesn’t take long for things to go batshit and the strange develops are what make this film so intriguing. I’d love to discuss my opinions on the films intriguing concepts, but that would ruin some surprises that are best left to the viewing eye. What I can write about is how brilliant every technical aspect is in this near masterpiece. The visuals are often breathtaking. The music varies from emotionally resonant to supersonic brilliance. The visual effects are stunning. And the use of sound is often so creepy that it will make your skin crawl.
Bottom line: Alex Garland is about as talented a filmmaker as you can find and his brand of science fiction has always been eye opening, but this film may take the cake. From the beginning to the end, I was completely glued to my seat and enthralled with every new revelation. I can’t talk about the last 20 minutes of this film, but I can tell you that it’s about as unforgettable as filmmaking gets. Which is why ‘Annihilation will be one of the best films of the year!