Written and Directed by: Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac
Runtime: 115 min
Alex Garland brings us the movie adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy, which tells the story of an expedition team who goes inside The Shimmer, a strange disaster zone that is expanding each day that goes by and it is threatening life on the planet.
Natalie Portman (Lena) leads with the help of an all-female supporting cast, plus Oscar Isaac (Kane).
Annihilation is one of my Most Anticipated Movies of 2018 and I didn't really enjoy the fact that it was released on Netflix. The producers said that the film is "too intellectual" for mainstream audiences and even though I don't (entirely) disagree, Garland made this movie for the big screen. I feel disappointed that I didn't watch this sci-fi story in a movie theater and I think films like this should be supported instead of just throwing them into a poor-quality screen.
There are two main reasons why this movie should have been released wide in movie theaters: its visual effects and its score. Visually, this film floored me. It is always mind-blowing when a movie is able to create something never seen before and Annihilation does it. Everything feels astonishingly imaginative and unique. It is a whole other world inside The Shimmer and I can feel it just by looking at it, every single shot heavily drops visual beauty with its colorful and eyegasmic cinematography.
The special effects are undeniably innovative and wonderful. Additionally, the score is also extremely addictive. It starts with an acoustic vibe and it gradually "mutates" itself when our characters go inside the mysterious zone. It not only supports the story but it elevates the suspense and tension levels, giving it a very cool sci-fi mood. It is so exceptional that I can't stop listening to it (guess what I am also doing while writing this review).
Some sci-fi films have their story carried entirely by the characters. They are the reason why those movies are good or bad. Alex Garland writes such a captivating and intriguing premise that the characters are almost secondary to the screenplay. Even though the slow pacing drags the film too much during the second act, the main premise is so damn interesting that I couldn't take my eyes off the screen.
Every scene has a purpose. Every apparently random shot of a tree or of an animal, every line of dialogue ... There are so many metaphors and very superficial plot details which make the viewers think. I understand why the producers said that the movie was "too intellectual" for the general audience, this is not a film which you can leave the theater and that's it, it is over.
You have to think through it. You have to be focused and open-minded to understand the bigger picture. The premise might be too scientific for some people (it is based on science notions that I don't think most people have) and that is definitely something the producers had in mind when Netflix arrived on the table of alternatives. I think it is a very smart concept and it is executed in the most fascinating and creepy way possible. However, the screenplay is also part of my issues with the movie.
I am going to be as vague as possible to not spoil anything. Garland does an overall great job: good camera work, the exposition scenes are well-written and the editing is seamless. Nevertheless, he chooses to build a narrative around Lena in a way that takes away any sense of urgency and it turns every character's path very predictable. Even though I am always on my back foot regarding sci-fi films which always carry a twist of some sorts, each character has a pretty obvious storyline.
From the moment the second act kicks in, I know that the movie is going to follow a certain route regarding the supporting characters and it never fades away from my expectations. The ending will be thought-provoking for some and it will be underwhelming (or overwhelming, depending on the viewer's mind) for others. For me, it is definitely an ending that needs some time to think but even after that, the expected payoff feels short for the slow-burn I had to go through.
Genre-wise, it separates itself from the pack. It is not trying to copy anything, it is its own thing. I can't say I've seen any part of this film in some other work. It is very different, it follows an uncommon story filled with very puzzling plot points, elevating the movie's interest. It always feels new and innovative. Its tone is very well-balanced while its pacing could have been better controlled (I guess it really depends on how much the payoff compensates the rest of the film for you).
I love ambiguity and contrary to The Cloverfield Paradox, this movie has a good amount of it without becoming overwhelming and confusing. This is a much-needed type of film nowadays, it is something people will keep discussing after its end due to its several interpretations, which only the great sci-fi movies are able to achieve. Truthfully, the more I think about the film the more I like it, but there are some minor plot details that are showed and never mentioned or explored again, which makes them feel unnecessary to the overall storyline.
Finally, the cast and their characters. Natalie Portman brilliantly leads this movie and I am thrilled that she is able to effortlessly carry such a heavy one. She displays tons of emotions and delivers a seamless performance. Her character, Lena, is very compelling and exciting to follow. Her backstory and personality are the most developed and the team's chemistry is undeniably remarkable.
Everyone has great performances, especially Gina Rodriguez (Anya Thorensen) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (Dr. Ventress). Both have standout moments where they shine, while the other two are part of my other major issue with the film. I couldn't care less about the supporting characters. Anya and Ventress have something more to them than the others, probably due to the actresses' excellent work, but all of them feel very depthless.
Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) and Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) are just ... there. Cass helps to develop Lena and Josie serves to explain what is happening, so they become pure plot devices with no real personality. Oscar Isaac mysteriously portraysKane, Lena's husband who means more to the story than the female supporting characters, even though he has a very short screentime. Basically, I only cared about Portman's character and having in mind that everyone else's path is pretty clear, this is a huge problem ...
All in all, Annihilation is a thought-provoking, unique sci-fi movie, which does not stop after its end credits, generating a much-needed film discussion. The visuals effects are mind-blowing and the score is remarkably addictive, elevating an already amazingly imaginative and intriguing premise, which kept me captivated throughout the whole runtime. However, a strange narrative choice surrounding Portman's character (who she portrays flawlessly) plus an underwhelming payoff, break any sort of mystery surrounding the under-developed secondary characters and some minor plot details become unnecessary and unexplored. It is still a good job from Alex Garland, who is able to use his technical abilities to improve the movie's overall quality.