“Annihilation” Movie Review: A Painting of Beautiful Self-Destruction

PC: Peter Mountain/Paramount Pictures

Alex Garland has made a name for himself in the realm of sci-fi story telling. He is the author of many books and screenplays; most recently he started directing with his debut, “Ex-Machina.” I found the film interesting, but I could sense the director’s urge to go all out and be edgy in his debut. His newest film, “Annihilation,” finally balances out all of his ideas while being a loose adaptation to the book of the same name.

Even with the balances, Garland’s films are still not for everyone. One of the producers felt the same way, deeming the film “too smart” for audiences resulting in the film being pulled from theaters internationally and being dumped straight to Netflix. Thankfully in the states we can view this film in theaters (for now). After seeing “Annihilation” twice in theaters I can say that it definitely deserves to be seen on the big screen. It is as ambitious as it is beautiful. I couldn’t gather my complete thoughts until a second viewing; this may be seen as a negative, but any film that is captivating enough to pull you back to the theater is something we truly lack these days.

“Annihilation” stars Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tuva Novotny turn in great performances as the five scientists who venture into the threatening and expanding biological phenomenon called the “Shimmer.” What ensues is a rush of beautiful scenes as well as some of the most disturbing. I don’t want to say any more about the story because the less you know the better. I will say that the themes tie into the story very seamlessly and its final moments will leave you with just enough answers that the questions will captivate you.

Unlike Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” there enough pieces to the puzzle. You can formulate your own theories without it feeling too loose from the facts you are presented with. The best part is that most of your assumptions when it is over will be mutual with others and it leads to great discussion. All the pieces of the story unfold in interesting and necessary order. There is also a lot to be offered visually. Some of the things found in the Shimmer echo a slight likeness to the works of H.P. Lovecraft but they have their own tone. The designs feel original with just the right amount of inspiration.   

While a few of the CG moments in “Annihilation” are a bit dodgy, the art direction and the cinematography by Rob Hardy carry the visual style of the film. For a low 40 million dollar budget and the amount of scale there is to every shot inside the Shimmer, it looks great. It was meant to be seen on a big screen. There are too many cinematic and breathtaking moments in this film for it to be a straight to Netflix release. With all the questions this film raises by the end and the small details to be found, this film is not “too smart” for anyone.

This movie may challenge the viewer but to say that it requires a higher intellect to understand is nonsense. The only thing this movie requires is your attention. Many people view movies as a way to relax and shut down for a while and that is completely fine, because we all view film differently. Disliking “Annihilation” wouldn’t mean you’re incompetent, it would simply mean you did not care for it. We all have different tastes and for a producer to shut down his own film because he confused taste with intellect is the real dumb thing in the end.

This film is a neat, engrossing, beautiful puzzle for sci-fi fans and anyone who wants to give it a chance. Alex Garland successfully packs enough answers surrounded by mystery with an engaging, if not flawed, protagonist that we want to follow into the dark abyss of the Shimmer.    

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