Alex Garland is the writer behind some of the best films on this list. That includes the 10/10 Danny Boyle movies 28 Days Later and Sunshine, as well as the visceral Dredd reboot and the emotionally powerful Never Let Me Go. He was also the director of the fantastic Ex Machina, so expectations going into Annihilation are pretty damn high. So, does it – and can it – shoulder the weight of the hype?
The answer is yes, just about. As we’ve come to expect from Garland, Annihilation is an innovative, original film that tackles a vaguely familiar subject matter in a fresh and atypical way.
It opens with the arrival of a mysterious extra-terrestrial object that lands near a lighthouse that is otherwise located nowhere in particular. Fast-forward three years and Lena, played by Natalie Portman, is being interrogated after what appears to be a traumatic and confusing event. The film is then dedicated to recounting what happened in the weeks prior to this interview. This mostly focuses on Lena partnering with four other women to venture into the ‘shimmer’, an expanding, soapy bubble that now encompasses several miles of thick vegetation surrounding the impact site.
Naturally, the situation is more nuanced than that. Lena’s husband Kane, played by the talented actor with two first names Oscar Isaac, was among the military personnel sent in to investigate the shimmer a year prior. He, unlike everyone else that has ever attempted to enter it, somehow managed to return – albeit with a near total memory loss. This inspires Lena to venture inside herself and figure out the secrets within.
Annihilation has an almost dream-like quality, with the surreal, oil-like visuals giving it an aesthetic unlike any other sci fi I can think of. The vivid hues of green, purple and cyan create a compelling and believable sense of place, and the emergence of a DNA-inspired narrative makes it all the more captivating (there are tiny flickers of Evolution in here, but Annihilation is executed a hundred times more convincingly).
The story cracks a tiny bit here and there: you’ll have to suspend disbelief a a few times and stop yourself from asking ‘why don’t they just …’ probably one too many times, but overall the plot is tight and focused enough to be engaging throughout. It’s also worth mentioning that it features an almost entirely female cast with a number of prominent non-white roles and, importantly, makes no big deal of it whatsoever in the best possible way. The gender and race of the cast is almost entirely irrelevant to the plot, and all the better for it. Overall, Annihilation aims for something new, different and challenging. It succeeds in almost all of its goals, only let down by the occasional character trope that undermines what is otherwise a serious and cerebral film. Bring your brain and your attention with you, and Annihilation will reward you with an intellectual, visually stunning treat.