This movie is both entirely within my wheelhouse and entirely not within my wheelhouse. It’s in because I love well-scripted, tense science fiction that questions the nature of existence and humanity’s place within. It’s not because I am a big old baby and I frighten easily. Like a rabbit.
One year ago, Kane (Oscar Isaac) left on a classified government mission. Today, he shows up at his wife Lena’s (Natalie Portman) doorstep. He is confused and very, very ill. The government kidnaps both of them and shows Lena exactly where Kane has been. He’s been inside the Shimmer. A glossy rainbow tinted soap bubble that’s surrounded a local wildlife preserve ever since a meteorite crash landed inside. Electronics don’t penetrate the barrier and everyone who’s gone inside the Shimmer has never returned. Until Kane that is. Lena, searching for a way to save her husband, volunteers to join the next mission: an all female crew of scientists hoping to find answers where everyone else has failed.
Things get weird.
Annihilation is beautiful. This is a well-shot film with one hell of a set designer. The jungle inside the Shimmer feels very real and very alive, like if you dumped a bunch of HGH on a Louisiana swamp and threw a little Pandora in for good measure. Everything is designed to give you a sense of both wonder and horror. What’s happening may look beautiful, but it’s also very, extremely wrong.
Natalie Portman shines as she always does. And I really enjoyed Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character. The rest of the film is one giant Bechdel Test fulfiller rounded out by solid supporting characters. But the scariest character is the unknown alien entity hovering over everything. What does it want? What does it need? Why is it here? How does humanity react to something that doesn’t have a plan? That will change us fundamentally with little care or thought, but with what amounts to little more than random chance? We get a few different perspectives on that from some of our characters. Rejection, acceptance, fear, fury. How would you react to that immutable thing, our DNA, suddenly becoming mutable?
Director Alex Garland is a master of sci-fi storytelling. He wrote Dredd and 28 Days Later. He wrote and directed the amazing Ex Machina. And he’s penning an upcoming Halo screenplay. If you like good sci-fi, please support this film. Even if the ending lighthouse scene is a little too long for my taste, this is a wonderfully made, quasi-horror film.
3.5 out of 4 stars.
P.S. that bear monster is going to haunt my dreams. Not for the faint of heart or those who can’t stand a little gore.