“I think you’re confusing suicide with self-destruction, and they’re very different things.”
I’m so glad to have finally experienced this film. It’s not just another ordinary science fiction “under-seen” film, it is very much an experience. Whether it be the breathtaking visuals of Alex Garland‘s direction and Rob Hardy‘s cinematography, the precise script, the solid chemistry between actors, or the haunting score. Oh, and guess what… This film believe it or barely has any green screen. Obviously there is VFX, but there are more practical effects and overall set design than you would imagine. It’s a beauty of a film just to visualise. And don’t even get me started on the bear design! Do yourself a favour and Google “Annihilation bear concept art”. The making of the bear is a 10/10 watch alone. The practical effects, the stunt work, and the process is worth your applause.
This is a very intellectual plot, and the script does its best job at not coming off too high-brow. That said, there is a whole lot of substance to the film and it’s worth various viewings. It does have a predictable plot, especially if you have some keen eyes, but it’s non-linear storytelling works very well with the eerie pacing. The scientific themes presented throughout the film are truly mind boggling, where the “Shimmer” is the literal representation of the life cycle. Life, growth, evolution, death, repeat, the entire cycle all in fluid constant motion with one another. It’s beauty and its terror, as serene as it is apprehensive. I only saw the book trilogy covers, but now I’m even more intrigued to actually read them.
For the most part, I would classify this as a heavy scifi film with action moments. It’s summed up in a conversation between Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Dr. Ventress and Natalie Portman’s Lena. The prior psychologically evaluating the latter to see if she has what it takes to enter the Shimmer, “A scientist-soldier. So you can fight and you can learn”. The majority of the plot relies on the masterfully crafted script and the perfectly handled VFX. Alex Garland is coming into his own in terms of directing, but he has always been an ace screenplay writer that I admire immensely. 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Ex Machina, now this, Garland is hit after hit. I’d absolutely love it if he did a Swamp Thing film or series, but I know he never would. But I digress back to just how professional the script was. It deliver exactly what it needs you to know, in just the right manner that matches the tone. The delivery and academia behind each word seems plausible and even if it uses high value words, you embrace it. And while I was never taken out of the moment, I can feel that the action scenes (with epic mostly practical effects) were tactically placed to keep the pacing active. The pacing only takes a hit towards the third act, where it came off as being a tad bit rushed to reach the end goal, rather than continue the suspense and paranoia. I certainly wouldn’t say this film is for everyone, but if it means anything, one third of the way in, my young brother stopped his “Fortnite” match to watch this.
I was utterly floored and perplexed by the amount of detail in the film. It must have been a wonderous experience for everyone involved. Not only for the star power, but for the behind the scenes film crew. The set design and the VFX must have been as eager as they were stressed. The plants, the animals, the sky, the fungal and cancerous vein growth and infestation. You are every bit invested and fascinated at the sights, as the characters are. I also want to make a note on just how altering the film is. As everything within “the Shimmer” enters a stage of complete molecular change, not only are our characters on a timer, but they also actively engage with various organisms within the same stages they might have to deal with themselves. Throughout the environmental tinted thriller plot, we are given enough time to digest each of the scientists, but also the setting. So when something seems a little off, the keen viewer will notice. The attention to detail is aces, and what kept catching my attention was a particular oroborous tattoo. Let me know how your viewing went.
Natalie Portman gave yet another terrific performance, certainly leading the rest of the ensemble. Jennifer Jason Leigh also gave a very subtle yet nuanced performance that truly lifts Portman’s higher. The two have an incredible dialogue on psychology and biology applied to the human tendency to self-destruct. It’s a natural element, or perhaps it is a genetic flaw that could be manipulated as Lena discusses with Kane (Oscar Isaac) earlier. But the conversation the two scientists have in the Shimmer bring out this layered showcase of human depression, lonesome abandon, and our own tendencies to want to essentially destroy ourselves. Whether it be crazy trips, risky decisions, the mere desire to live in a possibly meaningless world, getting in a car, drinking, romantic relationships, you name it. This film has depth, and while some of the characters could use more time, those that are given focus have a lot to say if you’re paying attention. While the rest were all very well suited for their roles, I do feel like they could have been anyone. Nobody had a set defined role that *had* to be played by that exact actress. But I enjoyed the interaction they each had and how each applied their characters’ own professional backgrounds to attempt making sense of their situation. Leaving their a world run on security of the objective, into a mercurial organism that is nothing but subjective. I really liked (new to me) Tuva Novotny’s support performance. Tessa Thompson could have used some more time, but I feel that each of the scientists were tactically placed to have their expertise moment. In terms of character development, it could have used more for the supporting roles, but as I stated, they were there to serve their professional academic purpose, and not much more. I must also really give some praise to the short yet very very genuine emotional relationship that Portman and Isaac display.
On a note of the cast, I love how people recently made a big deal about Widows‘ (which is also good) casting. Where the hell was the love for Annihilation? Huh, was it too “weird” for you to back or to “Stan”?
My only major complaints are that we didn’t get more Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, and that I didn’t get to see this in IMAX!
With awards season in full swing, I will be utterly disappointing if this gorgeous film does not at least receive it’s immensely due technical credit (VFX, Cinematography, Production Design).
P.S. Big shout-out to the masterful body performance by Sonoya Mizuno.