“Annihilation” is a film that left me feeling hypnotized. I felt as if I had been engulfed by a film and a story that is uniquely efficient and profound. As an aspiring writer, “Annihilation” is a film that is incredibly frustrating because it’s a film that is absurdly difficult to put into words so that you, the reader, can understand my relation to its artistry.
Straight up this is a film that is not for everyone; this film is for those nerdy geeks who either love profoundly original filmmaking or sensational sci-fi genre filmmaking. I do feel that the average moviegoer will leave the theatre feeling as if they’ve been duped by a marketing team, which is fair because this film is being mismarketed in more than one way. The lack of theatrical release in the worldwide market is both frustrating for those who find themselves raving about the film, like me, and understandable of the studio for fearing a lack of financial response from a market that is more obsessed with easily accessible storylines, instead of high concept storytelling, which makes sense.
Putting all of the critical vs audience subtext aside which is not my intention, but maybe the reasoning behind the studios choice of release, “Annihilation” is a film that can not be given a sufficient synopsis without spoiling key moments. Instead, the outline has to be something that is lacking detail and feels very bare-boned, which is what I’m about to do by stating that “Annihilation” revolves around the storyline of a seemingly widowed wife being surprised by her revived husband whose not only back from the dead, but incredibly sick. She soon discovers that the classified mission that leads him to this fate was something extraordinary and impossible as a shimmering force has overtaken a small swamp. A glittering land that is both treacherous and mysterious and has forced our protagonist to go into the proverbial mouth of the beast to save her husband.
I know, it’s a long but ambiguous synopsis that doesn’t necessarily excite you, but it should because after much pondering, “Annihilation” is one of the best sci-fi films of the decade. Sci-fi has been on a rollercoaster ride as of late with some incredible highs like that of “Blade Runner 2049” and “Arrival,” but also incredible lows like that of “The Dark Tower” and “Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets.” “Annihilation” is a film that brings that proverbial rollercoaster ride back to a near sky high placement with its hypnotic visuals and cerebral storytelling that is attempting to digest the ongoing philosophical question of what it means to be human in both a literal and metaphysical fashion.
To place a microscope upon the “shimmering” brilliance that "Annihilation" is, I’ll focus on the technical aspects of the film in which “Annihilation” soars and conquers. The cinematography of the film is stunningly unique and showcases the brilliance of the young up and coming filmmaker known as Alex Garland. The use of lighting and contrast ratios and colors is nothing short of hypnotic. It harkens back to Deakins’ exceptionalism last year with “Blade Runner 2049” by showcasing the importance of manifesting a visual world that feels distant but vaguely familiar.
You can spot inspirations from the realm of sci-fi throughout the scope of the film's excellence. With some tweaks of visual imagery that looks like the ocean floor brought to the surface and some visual familiarity to movies like “Terminator” in that of the manifestation of a key symbiote like creature. There are also moments that took me back to that of Naughty Dog’s “Last of Us” with the use of soft acoustic rhythms from a guitar and the landscape reminiscing to that of the Clicker-ridden world seen in the dark forests of "Last of Us." Garland is not only borrowing from sci-fi filmmaking, but he’s borrowing from all realms of media translation of the sci-fi genre.
The sound is atmospheric and translucent. It lights up the movie into a clear journey of sci-fi escapism that is speaking in a slow but methodically clear manner. It feels as if “Vision” (Paul Bettany) from the “Avengers” has sat you down and begun telling a story that is extraordinarily intelligent, yet remarkably linear. The story is not produced linearly though, which sounds incredibly contradicting, I know. I think it’s supposed to though, because the metaphorical subject that Garland and the original author, Jeff VanderMeer, are dissecting is complicated but simple.
We know what it means to be human on a superficial level as far as design, instinct, and contextual makeup. But what separates us from other species as far as a level of importance concerning that of morality and emotionality is incredibly intricate. The construction of the screenplay reflects that because it maintains a core design to its structure while maintaining a higher level of storytelling that is ambiguous and hypnotizingly conversational.
There are times where, much like “Blade Runner 2049,” the screenplay has to stop and explain what’s happening to the audience. Instead, of being able to overlook that flaw due to the sheer excellence that I found in “Blade Runner 2049.” This time around I was launched out of my enchanted experience and reminded that I was merely watching a movie, which is the one flaw, minus the overwhelming third act, that takes this film down a few notches from becoming a proclaimed masterpiece.
The performances and character writing behind them is balanced, focused, and nothing short of sensational. Natalie Portman turns in, yet another, remarkable performance. No one should be that pretty and that damn talented, but Portman is just that, and she shines once again in this emotionally challenging performance. Jennifer Jason Leigh is excellent as well, and Tessa Thompson is marvelous and magnificent to see on the silver screen once again as we await her return as the sole surviving Valkyrie of Marvel. Gina Rodriguez turns in a surprisingly incredible performance, as well as Tuva Novotny who is also incredible. These characters are brought to life through exceptionally clever screenwriting, but they are also brought together by near masterful performances.
Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” is a film that is going to be both undervalued and overvalued by audiences and critics alike. Some will hate it, and some will love it. For me, this form of high concept sci-fi storytelling is nothing short of hypnotic. The film begins as a sci-fi mystery and then becomes a sci-fi body horror then it delves into becoming a creature feature and returns in the end as a high concept sci-fi film. “Annihilation” covers all of the grounds of sci-fi in a near effortless fashion and it soars so much higher than the rest of the genre. It asks a question with no answers, it provides horrific scenes that are subtly graphic, but violence never becomes the focus. “Annihilation” is everything you want out of a sci-fi film, but may be too much to swallow for the average moviegoer.
It’s a lot to take in and a lot to ponder, but the best sci-fi films are.