There are movies that just encourage conversation. Okey, let me be realistic, there are movies that encourage conversation in certain like-minded film enthusiasts. Fortunately in Fantasia where the nearest review/critic/fan ready to give you their point of view is literally next in line to you. Actually, it was in one of those discussions that Annihilation came up and I decided to add it to my Late Movie Night lineup.
Annihilation is the product of director/writer Alex Garland based on the novel by Jeff Vandermeer. Immediately, I get a vibe that reminds me of Denis Villenueve’s Arrival. No, there’s no real link between the two but they’re both very cerebrally crafted science fiction movies. Here’s where the first line of debate already appears: for a lot of people, there’s no logic nor reason in Alex Garland’s film. I think there is, but before we get into that, I do have to give a shoutout to another film.
The other film is Sergey Mokritskiy’s A Rough Draft which premiered at Fantasia 2018. For me, that film had more roots in Fantasy than Science Fiction. It also was an adaptation that relied heavily on explanations already made in Sergey Lukyanenko’s novel without offering them. While I strongly think that A Rough Draft would have benefit from some explanations to make it more receptive to all audiences, the same is not true about Annihilation. It’s a movie drowned in the eerie environment of it’s own mystery and thus leaves the explanations mostly to you.
The events are offered starting from the point that something akin to a meteorite falls onto a lighthouse. We meet Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist whose husband Kane has been missing for a year after leaving for a secret military operation. When Kane (Oscar Isaac), shows up out of the blue offering no explanation he almost immediately collapses from massive organ failure. As Lena attempts to get him to a hospital, the ambulance in which they travel is intercepted by a secret government agency. Lena is drugged and taken along.
When Lena wakes up, she finds herself in Area X, a section quarantined by the military next to where a mysterious force field of some kind obstructs vision and communication. The occurrence and location is referred to as the Shimmer. After learning that Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is leading an all-female team of scientists to gather data on the singularity, Lena convinces her to let her tag along.
The Shimmer seems to break all laws of nature. Things that grow tend to show mutations from other species. So do animals, and by extension, all living things. And so we start a film that either draws you in with its opulent yet twisted visuals or repulses you with mutations and cross species traits. There are some disturbing things for you to see and hear, and there’s some clues along the way for you to thread it all up to the ending. The movie almost entices you to come up with your own theory.
I also think that the performances really ground the film solidly enough to reinforce my suspension of disbelief. I don’t think I would’ve been so enthralled into these characters without Natalie Portman’s performance as Lena. Same can be said about Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson. A less than stellar cast and the more outrageous concepts would’ve looked cheesy. This brilliant cast added some gravity to the film’s premise.
Highly recommended for science fiction fans with an open mind with one reservation. Yes, nature running wild is abnormal, but there’s a lot of heavy concepts of science, evolution, identity and even psychology here. The only reservation is that you’re going to either enjoy the exercise and the creepy atmosphere or you’ll get frustrated by it and find it unbearable. I think had I been in a different state of mind I’d just as easily end up in the exasperated camp. As luck would have it, I found it mentally engaging.
That will do for now.