Visually enticing, and narratively captivating, “Annihilation” brings new ideas and visuals to the apocalyptic sci-fi genre, keeping the viewer spellbound. Directed by Ex Machina’s director Alex Garland, it clearly reveals his signature; the mechanical, eerie soundtrack and some of the slow, mesmerizing physical movements of the actors greatly recall “Ex Machina.” The film’s ideological questions are groundbreaking. Most of that is to be attributed to the novel the film was based upon; “Annihilation” is an adaptation of the first novel of the same name from the “Southern Reach Trilogy” by Jeff VanderMeer. Nevertheless, the visual representation of said ideologies remains fresh and fascinating.
The film tells the story of Lena (Natalie Portman), a biology professor and former soldier, who recently lost her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) in a military mission. The events of the film are recounted by Lena herself in a quarantined hospital-like room to a man wearing a hazmat suit. The shimmer is a new unknown phenomenon hitting an area of the United States. No one who trespassed into it has yet returned, except for Kane, Lena’s husband. Kane, however, is dying. That is all Lena needs to embark on the seemingly suicidal trip across said unknown shimmer. Her and five other military scientists, all women, are set to go. Psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) and geomorphologist Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) are the women joining Lena.
Across the shimmer, Garland gets to use all his skills to give form to the incomprehensible and ungraspable otherness that has reached planet Earth. Garland depicts its eerie beauty and its sheer horror without marginalizing or overpowering either one. Both unsettling and threatening, but, at the same time, disturbingly attractive and amusing, the otherness of the shimmer questions humanity and its existence on the planet; despite it being a threat to the existing world, its goal is not destruction. Lena says: ”It wasn’t destroying. It was changing everything. It was making something new.”
“Annihilation” visually demonstrates the reality of humanity’s limitations. Displaying the contradictions and the paradoxes of the shimmer reminds the viewer of just how much humans cannot understand. Whatever is unlike us is incomprehensible. Garland brings the viewers in an oneiric acid-inducing filmic trip. He entertains the audience’s eyes with an action-packed narrative and with alluring visuals, but also brings to the visual screen the very same existential questions posed by VanderMeer’s novel. Humans’ roles on earth, their authority, and their ability to conceive and respond to possible danger is on the line. Even their perception of the definition of threat is doubted.
“Annihilation” received an 88 percent fresh rating based on 281 reviews on the site aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. On Metacritic it holds a score of 79 out of 100 based on 51 critics. The film was favorably received. However, it was a box office bomb. For every viewer that desires a highly intellectual sci-fi action film, “Annihilation” is the go-to. For the viewers that are ready to doubt and question while at the same time having the privilege to indulge in the action and remain charmed by the visuals, “Annihilation” should be on their viewing list.
Jacqueline Pantano can be contacted at