Annihilation (USA 2018) Dir: Alex Garland
Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Gina Rodriguez, Oscar Isaac
Fresh from his success with previous sci go flick Ex Machina, novelist turned screenwriter and director Alex Garland serves us up another welcome slice of conceptual science fiction with this handsome looking, if loose adaptation of the eponymous Jeff Vandermeer novel.
A meteor crashes to earth in the vicinity of a lighthouse in the opening sequence. Three years later, and ex soldier turned cellular biologist Lena (Portman) is still grieving the loss of her special forces soldier husband Kane (Isaac), missing believed killed whilst on a top secret mission.
When Kane suddenly reappears at the marital home, and shortly after begins to suffer some form of haemorrhage, the ambulance is waylaid by a military team and Kane along with Lena suddenly find themselves housed in a top secret military complex.
The mysterious Dr Ventress (Leigh) informs Lena that Kane disappeared while on a mission inside ‘the Shimmer’ a quarantined zone surrounded by an electromagnetic field resulting from the meteor crash, and which appears to be slowly expanding inland. Several teams have been sent inside the zone, but none have ever returned, save for Kane.
Ventress announces that she is to head the latest expedition into the Shimmer to trace its source and investigate the nature of the phenomenon. She offers Lena the chance to join the all female team which along with Lena’s scientific field and the Psychologist Ventress also comprises an anthropologist, physicist and paramedic.
And it’s when the team venture inside the Shimmer that the story really kicks into gear…
It would be remiss if me to give away any spoilers, save to say that Annihilation is not the creature feature that the trailer suggests, but rather an intelligent piece of science fiction/horror of a type that I’d feared had gone out of fashion amidst the seemingly relentless tide of brawling superhero yawn festivals that have taken over cinemas recently.
Garland definitely has a touch for this sort of thing, and his hinterland as a novelist ensures the concepts explored by the story don’t drown out the characters, and his assured script ensures the film stays on just the right side of narrative ambiguity,when at times it feels as if it might stray off into pretentious twaddle. Portman as ever, gives it her all, her commitment to the work shining through here, and she is ably supported by her fellow actresses, with each given just enough background and personal arc to make us care when things inevitably head south. With Annihilation being the first in the planned Southern Reach trilogy by Vandermeer, and the ambiguous climax of the film adaptation, the door is wide open for a sequel, dependent on the film’s success of course.
The tone of the film brought to mind the science fiction novels of John Wyndham (which he himself referred to as ‘logical fantasies’) , the most famous of which is of course The Day of the Triffids, but his oeuvre extends well beyond his most well known work, and fans of Annihilation (the film and/or the novel) could do worse than to check out such titles as The Kraken Wakes and Trouble with Lichen.
In conclusion, Annihilation is a film sure to please fans of cerebral science fiction or for those discerning film fans who wish to cleanse their palettes of glossy but hollow studio blockbuster fayre.
Annihilation is available to stream on Netflix now.