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Review: Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation (2018)

Directed by: Alex Garland

Premise: Based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer. A team of scientists venture into a patch of land that has been overtaken by an extraterrestrial phenomenon that mutates the DNA of everything inside of it.

What Works: Annihilation is a beautifully made science fiction film that combines thrilling horror tropes with thoughtful ideas. This movie is worthy of comparison to the original Alien and the 1982 version of The Thing. Like those films, Annihilation is first and foremost a monster movie but one that features an exceptional display of showmanship and filmmaking craft. The movie is terrifically shot and it juxtaposes grotesque horror with an appreciation for the beauty of nature. This is a slow burn of a story, building slowly but deliberately, and it is generally paced well. The filmmakers deliver just enough monster movie action and horrific thrills to satisfy as mainstream entertainment while also including content that is challenging and interesting in a myriad of ways. Annihilation is a science fiction film in the true scene of the word; a lot of Hollywood sci-fi movies have nothing to do with science but Annihilation makes biology central to the story. Viewers don’t need an advanced understanding of cellular biology to appreciate this film but it does reward intelligence on the viewer’s part and the movie is packed with provocative ideas that connect the personal with the cosmic. The title of Annihilation refers to the way in which nature seems to mercilessly destroy everything and the struggle of living things to adapt and survive. The filmmakers weave that idea into the story and the visuals in a way that’s completely organic and then does the job of drama, connecting those ideas with the human experience.

What Doesn’t: Annihilation brings together an impressive cast including Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, and Tessa Thompson. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t do much with anyone except Portman. Each of these women is a scientist in a particular field but Portman’s character is the only one who really puts her expertise to any use. The film also fails to distinguish these characters as individuals. There’s a little exposition about how each of them is coping with a tragedy like illness, the loss of a child, or addiction, but those qualities don’t shape how the characters behave or how they process the sights and sounds inside of the mutated area. As a result, Annihilation remains a body count flick. It’s an intelligent body count flick but this story ultimately comes down to who will die and how they will meet their end. Annihilation uses a frame narrative with the story flashing forward to Portman’s character in a debriefing. The film doesn’t need it. The frame doesn’t add anything to the movie and actually undermines the drama by spoiling her survival and interrupting the momentum of the story.

Bottom Line: Annihilation is an impressive science fiction picture. It may not play for the Transformers crowd but this is a well-made piece of work that is both thoughtful and entertaining.

Episode: #688 (March 4, 2018)