Annihilation is the best kind of smart science fiction with stunning cinematography, creepy-as-hell visuals, and great performances by the lead cast.
Director: Alex Garland
Summary: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don't apply.
Note: I did not read the book beforehand. I've been informed by people I trust who have that it's best to put the book out of your mind.
There are plenty of reasons to go see a movie. Sometimes you really like the trailer and you want to check it out. Sometimes a bunch of actors that you like are working together. Sometimes the director or writer is one of those names you keep an eye on. Annihilation is a combination of all three of those things. This is a smart science fiction movie that pulls no punches when it comes to showcasing a world that is on Earth but nothing like anything we've ever seen. The five women we see venture into the "shimmer" are all varying levels of broken or crazy. They have to be, since no one comes back from the shimmer — at least not until Lena's (Natalie Portman) husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) appears out of nowhere, suffering from major organ failure and internal bleeding.
The trailers have done a pretty good job of not telling the audience what is going on, and the movie takes its time explaining it too. It's less about exactly what's going on as it is an experience. The world is bright, colorful, and the shimmer reflects off of everything, giving the sunlight a rainy hue. The world isn't off-the-wall insane, at least not at first, but we know what Earth is supposed to look like, and everything here is just a little bit off. It makes you uneasy; it's like the uncanny valley for our planet. There is horror here, and the movie is brutal at times. There is a specific sound — I won't spoil it in this review, but you will know it when you hear it, and it will stay with you. It's not often that a singular sound lingers this much, but Annihilation pulls it off. There is some imagery here that is nightmarish.
This is not easy material to pull off, and the cast does it perfectly. Portman is smart, defiant, and determined in a way that feels very real. Isaac spends most of the movie in a coma, so we only see him through flashbacks, but he and Portman have genuine chemistry. The other ladies on the expedition include Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tuva Novotny, and while they're all great, it's Rodriguez who steals the show. She does even more so in the middle of the second act, and it's fantastic to watch. Garland masterfully directs this cast, and despite the sun being out for most of the movie, no one ever feels safe. The horror imagery he's come up with here is stunning, and that sound is something else.
That being said, it's not a perfect production. In fact, it's going to be a movie that a lot of people hate for plenty of reasons. It's a slow burn, but if that's your sort of thing, it's not going to bother you. It can get pretty gory, but not too gratuitous. The final reveal doesn't entirely work, which is really the only mark against it. By then it doesn't really matter, though. This is movie that is meant to be experienced more than anything else. It's here to provoke a visceral reaction from the audience one way or another.
Annihilation is another masterwork from director/writer Alex Garland. They don't make science fiction like this anymore, and even when they do, they doesn't usually feature an A-list cast with a theatrical release. This is one of those movies someone in your life is going to be super obnoxious about, and with good reason. Enjoy this one in the theaters with surround sound like it should be before it hits Netflix.