Annihilation is in a word -- weird. It is the second film directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina) and is based on the book from the Southern Reach trilogy. Coming into the movie having seen only a handful of trailers and nothing else, I was surprised by how different the movie was from what the trailers portrayed it as. Many have likely came in thinking it was just another action movie.
The movie centers around the mystery of a meteorite that crashes on Earth, and how it is changing the environment around it. This mysterious location has been nicknamed “The Shimmer”, and is where most of the movie takes place.
Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former soldier whose husband Kane (Oscar Issac) went missing after being deployed to the Shimmer. But he suddenly reappears his home one weekend, with no memory of what happened. He soon becomes ill, and the couple head to the hospital, only to be forced off the road by government agents. The agents kidnap them and whisk them to a facility that monitors the Shimmer. After finding out that her husband's illness is possibly linked to his deployment into the Shimmer, Lena volunteers to go on the next deployment. From there, things go horribly wrong.
The story of Annihilation is actually told as three interwoven storylines taking place at different periods of time. The first of these storylines is how the movie starts; with Lena being interrogated after escaping the Shimmer, while the second storyline is her recounting what happened inside the Shimmer. The last storyline is sprinkled throughout the movie and shows why Lena feels so much guilt throughout the film.
The acting is for the most part well-done, although the initial introduction between Lena and the leader of the expedition Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) feels a bit wooden. Tessa Thompson plays the shy Josie Radek, who played only a minor role in the film. But Gina Rodriguez’s Anya Thorensen steals the show when she begins to unravel. With the exception of an exposition dump near the beginning of the film where Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) explains how everyone there is “damaged," the writing is solid.
The movie’s score and sound design work well and help ratchet up the tension, with the stand-out moment being a scene where the characters must be still while a mutant bear walks between them.
The visuals in the movie range from passable CGI to beautiful landscapes. The animals are the worst offenders, as the CGI is noticeable enough to pull you out of the movie, but the final scene with the mutant bear Is done well enough that you can partially forgive the film for that. Similarly, inside the lighthouse, the CGI used for the final scenes is almost distracting; however, what is inside the lighthouse is so alien that it’s not distracting enough to pull you out of the film.
Despite being based off a trilogy of books, Garland has said that he has no plans to make a sequel. Annihilation has the courage to not give any answers or explanations. In a time when every movie gives some exposition dump to try and explain everything to the audience, it was rather refreshing to walk away from a movie with more questions than answers.