Alex Garland follows up his 2015 directorial debut Ex Machina with Annihilation, a sci-fi thriller about a group of military scientists who enter “The Shimmer,” a mysterious quarantined zone that is full of mutating landscapes and creatures. The Shimmer is an impending threat as it moves closer to populated land. Annihilation earns a spot on the list of great recent sci-fi thanks to the exquisite ensemble led by Natalie Portman, the dense source material, and the beautiful imagery.
Each act of the film is different from the one prior though the film consistently keeps its slow burn pace. Act one is much more procedural than the other two as it introduces the concept by jumping through different time periods. The scientists entering The Shimmer can’t come soon enough as everything leading up to it is drowsy and pale in color. The Shimmer is full of colorful, lush greens which is a nice parallel to the dark and disturbing creatures that lurk among the woods.
Though not often, the horror is bone chilling and graphic. The stoic performances of the actresses at times doesn’t mesh well with what they’re experiencing onscreen which can have an impact on stakes seen through the eyes of the viewer. Portman is great in the lead role as she fights back any emotion while the viewer is still able to interpret that she’s grieving. The rest of the cast includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac in another sublime performance.
The third act of the film is where it challenges the audience the most. You hope that the viewer who is paying to see Annihilation is well versed in crazy sci-fi antics, resulting in them willing to suspend disbelief. The ending may turn viewers off while others applaud the ambiguous ambitiousness. Regardless, the finale is a visual trip that will have the viewer talking, for better or for worse.
Annihilation could benefit from a tighter script, resulting in a leaner telling of the story. The score is subtle and unnerving while the cinematography is glossy and bleak. Garland’s second feature is an achievement in technical storytelling while the script refuses to answer even the simplest questions.