“Annihilation,” dir. Alex Garland
A biologist’s husband disappears. She puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone known as the Shimmer, but does not find what she’s expecting. The expedition team is made up of the biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist.
Alex Garland built a career as a screenwriter with critical hits such as “28 Days Later,” “Sunshine,” and “Dredd.” Three years ago, he put himself on the map as a strong visual storyteller behind the camera with his directorial debut, “Ex Machina,” a high-concept science-fiction film on a small scale. Now he’s back with his sophomore effort, “Annihilation,” where he tackles a more ambitious narrative that unfortunately doesn’t entirely stick the landing.
Natalie Portman does exceptional work playing the films protagonist, but she’s seemingly the only character to have an investing personality. Her perspective is the only one that’s ever fully realized and there’s rarely an opportunity for the supporting players to stand out as anything other than basic character types, which is disappointing when you have talented actors like Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, and a particularly wasted Oscar Isaac. Gina Rodriguez unfortunately gets off worst of all as she overacts in almost all of her scenes.
Where “Annihilation” really shines is in its worldbuilding. The look of the Shimmer is truly stunning and the things that inhabit it feel unique. A major theme of the film is exploring the unknown and that exploration is a mostly investing journey once the crew enters the Shimmer til the film’s conclusion. There are images in this movie unlike any other out there.
There’s a really odd structuring decision that Garland goes with in telling this story where there are interview sessions sprinkled throughout the movie where Portman’s character describes everything she encounters in the Shimmer. The problem is that these scenes immediately follow pivotal plot points, unnecessarily over-explaining what was just shown on screen. These scenes only padded out the runtime, causing the film as a whole to move at a slower pace than needed.
Where there’s sure to be a divide among audience members comes in the films ending. Without going into too much detail, the resolutions to certain story elements are ambitious and the visual storytelling takes full control. The special effects are mind-boggling and the score is pulse-pounding, yet it still feels rather empty. People are guaranteed to walk out of the theater feeling like they just went on a crazy acid trip and not everyone is going to like it.
Alex Garland already proved that he’s an incredibly talented director with “Ex Machina” and for all it’s shortcomings, “Annihilation” is still a solid showcase of what he’s capable of bringing to the big screen. The problem is that the characters and story are sorely lacking, leaving no room for emotional investment. Bold and grand ideas certainly help generate a thought-provoking experience, but it doesn’t amount to much if it feels so detached.
Have you seen “Annihilation?” How do you think it compared to “Ex Machina?” Let me know down in the comments section below.
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