Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson
Director: Alex Garland
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s best-selling Southern Reach Trilogy, Annihilation stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac. It was written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina, 28 Days Later).
Alex Garland makes a very particular type of movie. He makes movies that mess with your mind and make you question your existence. Ex Machina was one of favorite films in recent memory and I knew that Annihilation would be cut from the same cloth. Through its strong performances, thought provoking story, and intense technical aspects, Annihilation continues to portray the feeling of dread that we have come to expect from Garland.
The story revolves around Lena (Portman) as she enters the Shimmer to find out what caused her husband (Oscar Isaac) to become deathly ill when he entered and returned. She brings a crew of other professionals (Jason Leigh, Rodriguez, Thompson, Tuva Novotny) to help her get to root cause of all the problems caused by the Shimmer. Together, they go deeper into the Shimmer and realize they have to face off against not only the external elements, but each other. All of these actresses give phenomenal performances due to the amazing material they were given to work with. I was most surprised by the performance of Rodriguez, who displays great range as her character goes through a downward spiral. Portman being the lead has the most to work with, but she makes the most of her time, beautifully transitioning between betrayal and despair, passion and endurance, and the element of the unknown. The story takes some time to build, but the payoff is great. I love when movies utilize a non-linear story arc and I believe Annihilation uses it very well. The script gives an incredible balance between what we know about this world and what we still need to figure out, but it does it in a way that makes us want to learn more about whatever is in the Shimmer.
Annihilation really makes its mark in the final act of the movie. The last 30 or so minutes are some of the most mind-altering moments I have ever seen. It starts off with a crazy spectrum of colors that just capture all of your attention. From a deep blue to a scorching array of red, yellow, and orange, the transition happens very quickly but comes across naturally instead of looking forced. During this time, the creepy, synthetic music from the trailer is playing in the background, adding to the fear of what could happen next. It reminded me of something that would have been in the original Terminator and really shattered any expectations I had leading up to that point. Moving on to the end of the film, I still cannot get it out of my head. If you like open-ended movies, Annihilation is a much watch for you. I am not sure what actually happened at the end, and I do not know if I like that or not. The ending really fuels the level of anxiety that it gives you during its runtime and just you feel like you can breathe for a minute, it sucks you right back in. There are subtle hints of what is going to happen down the road and if you miss them, the climax will be even more intense. Just when I start to think that I have the story figured out, I think about something else that happened or read a different theory that makes me question it even more.
Overall, Annihilation varies its style from subtle and stylistic to in your face and terrifying. I like movies that make you work a little bit for the payoff and if you can make it through the exposition, you will be rewarded with an amazing final act. The cast is absolutely stacked and it is one of the few instances where no one holds anyone else back. While I may not have liked it as much as Ex Machina, Annihilation more than holds its own. I do not know what Garland is working on for his next project, but I am sure it will wreck my mind in the same way that Annihilation did to me.
Overall Score: 8/10