Annihilation, a film written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex-Machina) and based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, opened this weekend to mostly positive reviews and currently boasts a “certified fresh” rating of 87% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences seem to be willing to give it a try. According to Deadline.com, it opened in fourth place behind Black Panther, Game Night, and Peter Rabbit. This high-concept, high-reaching film is a sci-fi thriller with a couple of extremely suspenseful moments that I would not recommend children be allowed to see. (I could barely sit through them myself.)
Biologist and former Army soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) is grieving the loss of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) who went missing while part of an Army Special Forces team when, literally out of nowhere, he appears. The two are then forcefully brought to a government-run base called Area X, where psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) explains to Lena that Kane is the only surviving member of his team to make it out of a near-by expanding mass nicknamed “the shimmer”. What exactly happened to the others team members is unclear, as Kane is deathly sick and not talking.
Dr. Ventress soon will be leading a research team into the shimmer (comprised of Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Tessa Thompson). Lena, her husband still sick with the shimmer-contracted illness, decides to join them. Everything that happens after these five enter the shimmer is best left unspoiled. Even the trailer should be avoided if possible, which I know can be hard these days.
So why didn’t I give Annihilation 5 out of 5 stars? The film’s only real missteps are 1) the screenplay is so steeped in symbolism that some of the dialogue comes off as clunky, 2) some (not all) of the C.G.I. looks like it came out of a video game from 15 years ago. I’m also glad it wasn’t an epic; but that’s not an insult, in fact its 2 hour running time felt like the perfect length for a story like this.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Annihilation reminded me of the superior Arrival, but that’s an unfair comparison since they’re completely different beasts. Arrival is about communication. Annihilation is about creation. Specifically, do we have to self-destruct in order to create? (Jennifer Jason Leigh at one point says something along the lines of “almost none of us commit suicide, whereas almost all of us self-destruct.”) Thank goodness not all the dialogue is this heavy-handed. In fact, the phrase “I don’t know” gets thrown around so much you walk away with it permanently imprinted in your brain.
Highlights include the cinematography by Rob Hardy and performances from the fantastic female leads. Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh can do no wrong as far as I and hopefully the rest of America is concerned. That said, is the film good enough to recommend seeing in theaters? I don’t know.
Annihilation is currently playing at the Maui Mall and tickets can be purchased there or on Fangdango.com.