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Annihilation - Movie Review

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Annihilation (2018) - Movie Review

Movie Review

4 starsWhat does it mean to be human? What separates us from other life forms? Does the same self-destruction that plagues the human race show up outside the human world? All grand questions to which the answers are really unknown. Or, at least, largely unproven. That does not stop Ex Machina director Alex Garland from taking them on in his new mind-bending film called Annihilation which he loosely adapts from Jeff Vandermeer’s first novel in his Southern Reach trilogy. The film is a strangely intoxicating mind trip of an adventure that relies more on sound, feel, and sight than it does on providing answers to the perplexing questions at its heart.

Annihilation is the story of a team of scientists sent by the government to investigate a strange occurrence called The Shimmer, a soap-bubble-like force field that has been steadily expanding since it mysteriously appeared near a Florida lighthouse. The team is led by military biologist Lena (Natalie Portman), who volunteers for the expedition after her military husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns home not quite himself following a secret mission.

Accompanying Lena on the mission is an all-female team of adventurers including government psychologist Dr. Ventress (an annoyingly robotic and unapproachable Jennifer Jason Leigh), paramedic Anya (Gina Rodriquez), physicist Josie (Tessa Thompson), and anthropologist Cass (Tuva Novotny).

Their journey is told in flashback form as the narrative swaps back and forth between a sterile detox chamber where Lena is being questioned by hazmat-suited government officials, and the swamps of Florida where the team is searching for the source of The Shimmer. We know Lena has survived the ordeal, but her adventure, the fate of her team, and the meaning behind The Shimmer is tantalizingly unspooled along the way.

As the explorers venture deeper and deeper into the swamp, bits and pieces of clues – notes, video tapes, equipment, and even body parts – left behind reveal that everyone from past missions has either been killed by some kind of mysterious DNA-hijacking creatures within The Shimmer, or that individuals have seemingly buckled under the mental stress and turned on one another.

The deeper into the heart of darkness our heroes venture, the more strange and surreal the encounters become, and the more bizarre Garland’s sound and visuals get. Plants begin to take on human shape – one of the film’s most disturbing sequences, by the way, a bear-like creature attacks the party and steals the screams of its victims, and a video is discovered of a past explorer whose insides have been taken over by some kind of gastro-intestinal snake. Visions of Alien or The Thing dance in our heads as Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s entrancing score worms its way into our ear holes.

What are these beings, and what do they want? Are they plant? Are they animal? Or, are they some kind of strange genetic hybrid that has somehow figured out how to cross species lines? Viewers may or may not find out the answer, or each of us may come up with our own interpretation as Garland keeps us on our heels with distorted imagery, warped reality, and a persistent sense of tension from the horrors of both what we see, and what we don’t. It will be interesting to compare notes with others as there will undoubtedly be as many interpretations as there are interpreters. The experience is that trippy.

Annihilation is a thought-provoking movie – with equal parts oddity and elegance – that will stick with you long after you’ve left the theater. No matter your own personal interpretation of Garland’s message, it becomes readily evident that he isn’t necessarily trying to scare us (though it definitely earns its R rating), nor is he trying to destroy or change us. He wants us to contemplate nature and understand our precarious place in it. Or, perhaps he is simply trying to make us think. If I’ve interpreted his message correctly, then mission accomplished. I haven’t stopped thinking about this one yet.


Movie Details

Annihilation (2018) - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.
Runtime: 115 mins
Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson
Genre: Sci-fi | Fantasy
Tagline: Fear what's inside.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Was it carbon based?"
Theatrical Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date: February 23, 2018
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don't apply.


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Annihilation (2018) - Movie Review

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