An earlier version of this review was posted on The Lantern, check that out here
“Annihilation” is written and directed by Alex Garland and stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Oscar Isaac. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer and is about a professor with a military background (Portman) who accepts a mission into a very dangerous and mysterious area called “the Shimmer” in search of answers that her husband (Isaac) failed to find.
Garland was one of the most exciting new directors to look out for in 2015 with “Ex Machina,” so I was destined to be excited for whatever fresh project he decided to go with, and combined with an impressive cast led by Portman and a premise that promised loads of intrigue and mystery, “Annihilation” was a film that I was on the watch for since the first trailer.
There is so much to appreciate with Garland’s direction of this movie, and that is because of how ambitious and challenging “Annihilation” can be at times. This is a slow burn of a movie that takes its time with set up and the unknown. But because the movie remains interesting throughout all of the build-up, the payoffs often feel massive in scope, and the film simply gripped me from beginning to end.
Portman was fantastic in the lead, continuing to show herself as one of the best actresses working today. She is very subdued, but gives her character just enough to keep me interested in her. The chemistry that she shares with both Isaac and her team members was equally great.
I loved Leigh and Thompson in their supporting roles, for they both were able to make their characters enticing without overacting, showing emotion only in spurts and when it was absolutely necessary. Isaac’s role was rather small, but he electrified the screen every time he was given the opportunity.
From a visual standpoint, Rob Hardy’s cinematography is stunning, and the visual effects only make it better. This is a gorgeous film to look at, with the visuals on these other-worldly creatures and landscapes looking beautiful and distinct enough to make the Shimmer stand out for all the right reasons.
The score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow adds loads of intensity to scenes that were already tense enough without it. “Annihilation” had a way of getting under my skin throughout the film, and the music was a big player in that, especially as the film progresses and the plot really begins to come into its own.
There were so many scenes that had me on the edge of my seat, for everything that took place within the Shimmer was done to near perfection. Garland gives the audience just enough to comprehend what exactly is happening, but also leaves plenty to the imagination, and this ambiguity drives home a completely insane back third of the movie that works wonders.
The final act of this movie is a total adrenaline rush and one that has loads of interesting ideas at play. My jaw dropped for most of the final half hour, for this movie reaches “2001: A Space Odyssey” levels of mind-melting, and it is all the better for doing so.
“Annihilation” thrives on being a slow burn movie, which means the first act does not come out with a completely roaring start. There are a handful of scenes in the opening third that feel unnecessary or a little stale. I understand there should be some character development, but I think the rest of the movie did a good enough job with doing this more effectively.
This is less of a flaw than it is a note to make, but there will almost definitely be people who will not like “Annihilation,” for this is a risky film that takes a lot of leaps that you simply have to accept. While some might see the ending as overreaching and confusing, I absolutely loved how out there and original the whole experience felt, and it is movies like this that people will, and should, talk about for years to come.
“Annihilation” is thrilling, suspenseful and brilliantly well-told. Garland compiled a movie that brutally shows everything that it needs to, while building the characters and plot enough to have me totally on board. This film is smart with what it shows and what it doesn’t, and the technological feats in the camerawork, sound and visual effects only add to the experience. This might end up being a polarizing film, but it is one that any sci-fi fan should see since it is expertly handled throughout.
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