My husband and I went to see this on a whim (well, for him it was a whim–I’d been wanting to see it) and I’m really glad we got the chance to see it in theaters because it was quite a ride.
Annihilation, directed by Alex Garland and staring Natalie Portman, is based on a book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. It centers on a soldier turned academic biologist. Her husband, who is also a soldier and has been missing for a year after going on a mission, suddenly turns up at their house one night. Shortly, it’s discovered he is dying of multiple organ failure and they are picked up by the military and taken to a secret facility where he’ll be treated. There, she learns of ‘the shimmer’, a strange phenomenon of a shimmering barrier that has been slowly spreading out from a lighthouse for the past three years. The military has sent multiple teams in, but no one has returned until now. Thinking there could be information to save her husband, as well as to assuage her own curiosity, she decides to join the next mission in to the shimmer.
Now, I haven’t read the book, but I know of it because I put a ‘new weird’ genre square on last year’s r/fantasy bingo card and had to figure out what ‘new weird’ meant. The best I could figure out is that it’s a sort crossroads between science fiction/fantasy and horror used to explore literary themes. So, going into the movie I expected this mix and I was not disappointed at all. The film really did a great job of translating exactly what I expected of a new weird story onto the screen. For me, this was more than just watching a movie, this felt like an experience–a weird, wondrous, horrific, cerebral experience.
I think fans of Alex Garland will enjoy this one as I feel his mark all over the movie. His techniques with certain shots, framing the scenes in certain ways and then echoing those shots later in the film, as well as inserting brief scenes out of context, are very effective in creating a sense of slight disorientation in the audience. This helps with the overall atmosphere of the film, which I can only describe as creeping horror. The music also was great in helping the movie achieve this.
The cast is fantastic, and of course Portman is very good as the main protagonist. But for me the hightlight of the film was the performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Ventress, the psychologist that has been with the mission since the beginning. She’s been evaluating those for the shimmer missions and now she decides she wants to go into the shimmer herself. She feels cold and practical, Leigh gives her such depth. Ventress was easily one of my favorite things about the film.
I don’t want to say too much about the details of the movie because I don’t want to give anything away. It’s definitely a film that will make you think, it doesn’t spoon feed the audience with answers. It does what any bit of good literature does–allow the audience to ponder the themes and draw their own conclusions. Therefore I’ll only say this: It’s a weird movie that only gets weirder and more unsettling as it goes on until the bottom drops out and you’re in a full on episode of wtf-ness.
If you’re looking for a summer blockbuster type, or something that spells everything out for you, you probably want to give this a pass. But if you want a strange and thoughtful experience, maybe check out Annihilation.