Annihilation is a sci-fi mind-bender that packs in a punch full of visuals and a thought-provoking story. Director Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina) exploration of challenging themes should leave viewers scratching their heads well after the end credits roll.
An absorbing and hypnotic film, Annihilation combines elements of a sci-fi extravaganza and a creature feature. Helmed by a top-notch cast consisting of Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac; Annihilation is one of the best films to come out in 2018. Based on Jeff VanderMeer's best-selling Southern Reach Trilogy, director Garland takes the well-written source of material and gives it life. The film follows five female scientists, who have signed up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don't apply. This mysterious zone is known as the "the Shimmer.” Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former US Army soldier. Portman is at the top of her game, giving us one of her most potent performances since 2016’s Jackie.
Leigh plays Dr. Ventress, a psychologist and the leader of the expedition. Ventress doesn’t give a damn who falls behind in the journey, her one and only goal is to make it to the beginning of “the Shimmer.” Next, we have Rodriguez who plays Anya, a paramedic. Anya’s rapid-fire tongue keeps the dialogue moving fast pace as we journey with her deeper into the unknown. As Anya’s paranoia rises, so does ours. Lastly, there’s Thompson and Novotny who play Josie and Sheppard, a physicist and linguistic anthropologist. Josie is the most clam of the group, while Sheppard is doing this journey in light of her daughter passing away to cancer. Sheppard has nothing to lose. Along the expedition the team encounters a mutated alligator, a mutated bear-like creature and a doppelgänger.
All bring out the real dangers and fears of this strange parallel world they’re in. Annihilation is beautifully directed and written. It proves, yet again, that Garland is a director who needs to be taken seriously. He has now created two masterful films (Ex Machina and Annihilation) that are both incredibly ambitious and thought-provoking. Sadly, Annihilation didn’t see the box office for very long. The film ran into a studio dispute with Paramount. After a poor test screening, David Ellison, a financier at Paramount, became concerned that the film was "too intellectual" and "too complicated," and demanded changes to make it appeal to a wider audience, including making Portman's character more sympathetic and changing the ending.
Luckily, Producer Scott Rudin sided with Garland in his desire to not alter the film. So, the version you are seeing is the purest form of Garland’s vision. However, due to this studio dispute Paramount and Garland had a fallout. Netflix stepped in and picked up distribution for the film internationally. That means, Annihilation was only released in theaters in the states and it was very limited. If you get the chance, I recommend trying to see this film in the theaters where it’s meant to be. Annihilation is an intelligent film, but don’t let that sway you away. This is the kind of art we need more in theaters. Its own ambitions are too impressive to set aside.
“We made the film for cinema. I've got no problem with the small screen at all. The best genre piece I've seen in a long time was The Handmaid's Tale, so I think there's incredible potential within that context, but if you're doing that – you make it for that [medium] and you think of it in those terms. Look... it is what it is. The film is getting a theatrical release in the States, which I'm really pleased about. One of the big pluses of Netflix is that it goes out to a lot of people and you don't have that strange opening weekend thing where you're wondering if anyone is going to turn up and then if they don't, it vanishes from cinema screens in two weeks. So, it's got pluses and minuses, but from my point of view and the collective of the people who made it – [it was made] to be seen on a big screen.” – Alex Garland
Annihilation is rated R (Restricted). For violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.