From Writer-Director Alex Garland comes Annihilation, an adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name. What lies within The Shimmer, and will you understand it when you find out?
Lena (Natalie Portman), a respected biologist and professor, believes her husband, military man Kane (Oscar Isaac), is dead—killed in action overseas. That’s what makes it all the more distressing when a clearly disoriented Kane shows up inside Lena’s house—a year after he left for his mission. Kane starts coughing up blood and some people in unmarked vehicles take the two of them into custody. Lena awakens in a research outpost in the Southern United States. She is greeted by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who tells her the obvious that Kane is very ill. Believing she can help her husband, Lena asks for the full scoop. Just outside the outpost, a prismatic, translucent barrier envelops all behind it and the area encased in “The Shimmer” is widening. Kane was part of an expedition force into The Shimmer and was the only one to return. A new team, entirely comprised of women, is going in next. Lena wants in. Inside The Shimmer, different animal and plant species are being merged into something new. Sometimes the results are beautiful and sometimes horrific. What is the source of The Shimmer? Can its advance be stopped? Will Lena be able to help Kane with the answers she finds, if any?
Annihilation is not the film you think it is. The trailers have painted it as a kind of Aliens pastiche with a lot of guns-blazing, monster-fighting action, but there is much, much more to this film than all that surface material. This is a hard science fiction film that is far more mind-bending than the trailers would lead you to believe. It is a thought-provoking film that will generate discussion among audiences about what actually happens in the story. This is not a film that spoon-feeds the audience the answers. If that sounds like your kind of thing, you’ll love Annihilation. I really enjoyed it myself. I’m not much of a horror fan, as listeners of The Hodgepodge Podcast know well, so those elements didn’t thrill me, but the film itself is riveting, no matter how grotesque it gets in certain parts. It’s a twisty science fiction tale that will have you trying to figure out what’s happening along with the characters. With this and Ex Machina, Alex Garland is proving to be the go-to guy for thoughtful science fiction. We definitely need more of that.
The cast Garland has assembled is dynamite. I’m a big Natalie Portman supporter, so I’ll see just about anything she’s in. She does a great job here as a woman and scientist not only dealing with the fantastic situation in The Shimmer, but also with the more grounded problems of grief and guilt. Portman handles it all with deft skill. Jennifer Jason Leigh is also really good as Ventress, a character you’re never sure you can completely trust. What is her ultimate goal in The Shimmer and what will happen when or if she achieves it? Every science fiction tale needs that character you’re not sure of. The rest of Portman’s team is filled out equally dynamic actresses. Tessa Thompson plays Josie Radek, a physicist; Tuva Novotny plays Cass Sheppard, a geologist; and Gina Rodriguez plays Anya Thorensen, a paramedic. It’s greatly entertaining to watch each actress deal with what they find in The Shimmer and how it changes them. Will they all be able to keep it together and come out on the other side? Oscar Isaac is positively haunting as Kane and David Gyasi gives a nice performance as Daniel, a colleague of Lena’s. However, this show belongs to the ladies and they are fantastic tour guides through the bizarre world of The Shimmer.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed Annihilation, but it may not satisfy those who like their films wrapped up in a nice bow at the end. If you like a movie that will twist your brain as well as provide a few frights, you’ll love Annihilation.