Review: Annihilation

8 10

PLOT: A former soldier-turned-biologist (Natalie Portman) joins a five-woman team investigating a mysterious zone called “The Shimmer” after her husband (Oscar Isaac), the sole survivor of another mission to the zone, returns home gravely ill and with no memory.

REVIEW: Alex Garland’s ANNIHILATION is the writer-turned-director’s second film, following EX MACHINA, but it’s drawn up some controversy with the new regime at Paramount opting to release it internationally on Netflix this March. Only North American and Chinese audiences will get to see it on the big screen.

While their reticence is somewhat understandable, as it’s definitely more like the kind of movie a studio like A24 would put out instead of the risk-adverse majors, one wishes they showed more faith in the film, as it deserves to be seen theatrically - the way it was intended. Boasting some truly impressive eye candy and nifty gore effects, ANNIHILATION is an indie sci-fi flick given A-list treatment, a rare thing these days.

An adaptation of the first novel in a trilogy by author Jeff VanderMeer, on the surface ANNIHILATION wouldn’t seem to be all that different from either version of THE THING, with it sharing surface similarities, mainly the ultimate threat of the loss of self, although it gets a little more cerebral as it goes on. Here, Natalie Portman’s biologist finds herself face-to-face with a threat that’s not bound by the science she’s armed herself with, with the notion being that the mere knowledge of this kind of life-form is enough to drive you insane (in some ways this is like the sinister cousin to ARRIVAL).

It’s best to go into this relatively free of spoilers, as the threat here unravels as more of a mystery, with Garland masterfully using the slow-burn to maximize the mounting sense of dread. We spend more time than usual getting to know Portman and her team, with Gina Rodriguez as the non-scientific surrogate for most of us, while Tessa Thompson contributes a philosophical side to her character, and Tuva Novotny stands as the empathetic one. In an against-type part, Jennifer Jason Leigh is the tough commander, while Portman is our rugged individualist, only concerned with finding out what happened to her husband.

Again, one has to wonder what spooked the studio so much about this, as even if it’s a shade slower than typical genre fare, it still delivers plenty of scares, and works as a straight-up horror film. The last act is probably what did it, placing it firmly in the ranks of “weird sci-fi” like Philip Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS remake or Michael Mann’s THE KEEP (although I’d argue this is far more effective than that flawed-but-interesting film), but it seemed to work for the huge audience I saw it with, and is straightforward enough it won’t alienate anyone.

However you see it, Alex Garland’s ANNIHILATION is a terrific genre entry that’s very much in-line with EX MACHINA, with some really nice touches, like the score by Ben Salisbury and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, and the amazing sound design, something I hope isn’t lost in the move to streaming. If you’re in North America, you owe it to yourself to see this one on the big screen this weekend. If not, it’s a must-watch that’s worth waiting for. The big silver lining here? Even if it doesn’t generate huge box office, maybe the streaming numbers will be enough to do the other two books, as this is a story many of us will be eager to see continue.

Source: JoBlo.com



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