Wednesday, October 10, 2018


Based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation is the story of a group of military scientists who enter a mysterious zone where landscapes change as they also encounter creatures that transform. Written for the screen and directed by Alex Garland, the film is a sci-fi horror film that follow a group of women who travel to this quarantined zone as one of them tries to understand what her husband had encountered. Starring Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Annihilation is an eerie yet evocative film from Alex Garland.

The film revolves a biologist who volunteers to join a group of military scientists into a mysterious zone where its surroundings change as it include mysterious creatures and things that are indescribable with the biologist wondering why her husband was the only one to return from that area. It’s a film that has a compelling premise yet it is largely told in a reflective manner by its protagonist Lena (Natalie Portman) to a scientist in quarantine as Alex Garland’s script uses Lena to explain what she and her team saw in the zone with questions about what happened to her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) who had returned from the zone but isn’t the same person. Even as the army has taken him and Lena believing that there is something wrong with them yet it is Kane that is ill with Lena wondering what really did happen to him.

The screenplay has Lena tell her story to this scientist as she also thinks about her life with Kane but also the anguish she faced when he wasn’t around. While she was approached by army psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who revealed what Kane and his team were at the zone known as the Shimmer. Lena eventually decides to volunteer with Dr. Ventress and a team that includes two military scientists in Josie (Tessa Thompson), Cassie (Tuva Novotny), and the paramedic Anya (Gina Rodriguez). Much of the film’s second and third act occur in the Shimmer as it is a world that is unlike anything where mutation is common while there’s a lot of complexities into the environment that these women are all trying to understand as they all try to reach the lighthouse where the source of everything that happened is.

Garland’s direction is definitely intoxicating for the way he creates a world that is strange and surreal but also filled with wonders that play into the complexities of humanity and nature. Shot largely on location at Windsor Great Park as well as Holkham Pines in North Norfolk in Britain, the film does play into this strange mix of sci-fi and horror as Garland does maintain this air of suspense. While the film does have conventional elements relating to horror in what these women encounter, there is this conflict about what these women want to do with their mission as it intensifies during its second half. The scenes set at the Shimmer definitely echoes a lot of the visual compositions of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky in terms of the attention to detail in the images as well as in some of the surreal elements. The usage of wide and medium shots play into that sense of wonderment that include some of the creatures that Lena and her team would encounter throughout the course of the film.

Garland would also use surrealism to play into the landscape and things that the characters would find at the Shimmer. Even as it play into idea of science where Lena, Dr. Ventress, Cassie, Josie, and Anya each give their own take of what they find. The third act isn’t just about going into the lighthouse which is where the source of the Shimmer comes from but also what happened to those who went to the Shimmer and never came back. The land surrounding the lighthouse is just as unique where there is something that is beautiful and enchanting but also filled with a sense of terror into what is the source of all of these things. Even as Lena has to deal with what she discovered and cope with what happened to her husband and how he was able to return home. Overall, Garland crafts a ravishing yet haunting film about a group of scientists entering into a mysterious world where the laws of nature is different and ever-changing.

Cinematographer Rob Hardy does brilliant work with the cinematography to play into the low-key yet stylish lighting for the scenes at the lab and military compound as well as a more natural look at Lena’s home with something dream-like in the scenes set at the Shimmer. Editor Barney Pilling does excellent work with the editing as it does have some style in a few flashback montages of Lena thinking about her life with Kane as well as some rhythmic cuts that play into the suspense. Production designer Mark Digby, with set decorator Michelle Day and supervising art director Denis Schnegg, does amazing work with the look of the military bases as well as some of the places inside the Shimmer including the lighthouse. Costume designer Sammy Sheldon does nice work with the costumes as it is largely casual including the army uniforms that almost everyone wears in the film.

Hair/makeup designer Sian Grigg does terrific work with the look of the characters to play into their personalities including how Kane looked before his mission and what he looked like afterwards. Visual effects supervisor Andrew Whitehurst does incredible work with the visual effects in the design of the creatures as well as the landscapes and such inside the Shimmer. Sound designer Glenn Freemantle does fantastic work with the sound as it is a highlight of the film as it play into the atmosphere of the Shimmer as well as sound textures into what the creatures sound like. The film’s music by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow is superb for its mixture of ambient and folk in the music as it help play into the drama and suspense while the soundtrack mainly features a song from Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

The casting by Francine Maisler is wonderful as it include a few notable small roles from Sonoya Mizuno in a dual role as a student of Lena in Katie and a mysterious being at the Shimmer, David Gyasi as a colleague of Lena in Daniel who also works at the university where she’s a professor, and Benedict Wong as the scientist Lomax who interrogates Lena following the events of what she encountered at the Shimmer. Oscar Isaac is terrific in his role as Kane as Lena’s husband who returns from the Shimmer a different man where he is restrained and uncertain of where he is in comparison to who he is in the flashbacks as someone lively and animated. Tuva Novotny is fantastic as Cass as a military scientist who takes part in the mission as she is tough but also friendly as she befriends Lena as they both share stories of loss. Gina Rodriguez is excellent as Anya as a military paramedic who is a tough woman that is baffled by what she discovers as well as coping with the harsh environment of the Shimmer that allows her to act out.

Tessa Thompson is brilliant as Josie as a scientist who would make some discoveries about the landscapes and organisms at the Shimmer as well as provide some ideas of what is happening. Jennifer Jason Leigh is amazing as Dr. Ventress as military psychiatrist who leads the team as she wants to know what is out there while knowing why Lena chose to volunteer as she is also dealing with a secret of her own. Finally, there’s Natalie Portman in an incredible performance as Lena as a biologist who is trying to understand what happened to her husband while carrying elements of guilt as a way to redeem herself for him where she would make some unsettling discoveries but also make sense of the world that she is in as it’s one of Portman’s finest performances.

Annihilation is a phenomenal film from Alex Garland that features great performances from Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tessa Thompson. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, compelling story of nature, and an eerie music score. It’s a film that blends all sorts of genres while exploring the ideas of people dealing with surroundings that are complex and breaking the laws of nature. In the end, Annihilation is a sensational film from Alex Garland.

Related: Ex-Machina

© thevoid99 2018


Brittani Burnham said...

Glad you finally got a chance to see this! It's still one of my favorites of the year.

J.D. said...

What I liked about this film is that I couldn't predict what was going to happen next. That rarely happens these days. It was also a rare, thought-provoking science fiction. Love that Alex Garland can go from muscular action films like DREDD to something like this.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Same here as I was blown away by it as Natalie kicked ass in this film.

@J.D. Lafrance-Agreed, I was expecting the film to go this way but it went another way which I think more films need to do. It was better than I thought it would be.