Review: Annihilation


Alex Garland wrote and directed Annihilation, a sci-fi movie loosely based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. The story follows Lena and a group of women who venture into Area X aka The Shimmer.

The story opens with Lena (Natalie Portman), a college professor dealing with her husband Kane’s (Oscar Isaac) disappearance during a military operation. Nobody’s heard from Kane for a year, Lena and many others assume he’s dead. When Kane mysteriously returns home and falls violently ill, Lena learns where her husband has been for the past 12 months.

Lena learns Kane was sent on a top secret mission to an area nicknamed The Shimmer.  The Shimmer looks like fog enveloping an area but instead of condensed water, it looks translucent and colorful like a bubble dancing in the light. The Shimmer started forming around a lighthouse three years prior and is slowly expanding. The military sent multiple groups into The Shimmer and nobody has returned, except Kane.

In order to find a way to save her husband, Lena agrees to go on the next expedition along with a team of scientist lead by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Josie (Tessa Thompson), and Cass (Tuva Novonty. Their mission, make it to the lighthouse and report back what they find.

Once in The Shimmer, Lena and her group experience things beyond their wildest dreams.

Annihilation is a visually stunning sci-fi tale that’s centered on Lena and her quest to find out what happened to her husband. What the group experiences in The Shimmer is beautiful and sometimes terrifying.

The closer the group got to the lighthouse, the crazy and more interesting the story gets. From the beautiful to the bizarre, the women encounter it all. They aren’t sure if they should push forward to the lighthouse or find the quickest way out of their mind-bending nightmare.

The most compelling part of the journey is seeing every member of the group slowly reach their mental breaking point. Gina Rodriguez delivers one of the best scenes during Anya’s untimely breakdown. Anya is having a difficult time coming to grips with what they’ve seen. When she finally snaps, it unfolds in the most dangerous way possible.

The Shimmer is a character itself. The mysterious growing area is breathtakingly beautiful. The design of the area and the things that inhabit it are well thought out and incredibly detailed – they were  crafted from someone’s sci-fi dreams and nightmares. It’s these types of visionary designs that will keep the sci fi genre moving forward for the next decade.

As stunning and interesting as the trip into The Shimmer is, the film suffers when it leans on Lena’s search to find out what happened to her husband. This is no fault to Natalie Portman, who gives a solid performance, the story seems detached from what’s happening to the group. What’s happening to the women is much more interesting and engaging than whatever treasure hunt Lena is on for two hours. Spending more time with insane animal hybrids and the other interesting scientists is a much more compelling story.

Even with Lena’s personal journey at the center of the story, Annihilation is exhilarating fun.  The story goes to a few weird and strange places that will keep eyes glued to the screen. Portman is best when Lena is trying to figure out what’s happening to the group. rather than whatever emotional journey she’s on. Gina Rodriguez is fantastic. Her performance will remind audiences that she needs to be in more movies.

Annihilation is fun sci-fi that’s heavy on the sc-fi in the third act. There are questions about The Shimmer the story never fully answers and are up to audiences interpretation.  Even if you aren’t a big sci-fi fan, there’s a great cast, compelling story, and enough jaw dropping visuals to keep entertained.

Grade: B