After making his directorial debut with Ex Machina, writer/director Alex Garland brings us his latest opus that is Annihilation, a sci-fi gem that is destined to become a modern-day classic. Because I won't go into full detail about the story to avoid potential spoilers, the best way to describe Annihilation is that it is a web of sci-fi, horror, and intrigue that is puzzling in the best possible ways. It’s one of those movies that has you asking a handful of questions by the time it’s over yet the fact that it is so visually entrancing and features strong performances by the cast makes the experience of watching it incredibly worthwhile.
Annihilation follows the story of a military soldier turned biologist named Lena (Natalie Portman) who has been mourning the disappearance of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) for a year. But when Kane unexpectedly returns and falls ill, both he and Lena are abducted by the government. As Kane slowly dies, Lena decides to enter a mysterious force known as “The Shimmer” that mutates any form of life that it comes across and is a place where Kane is the only person to come out alive. Accompanying Lena on this expedition is psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), and anthropologist Cass Shepherd (Tuva Novotny).
The world of “The Shimmer” is a terrifying place. It’s a place that looks beautiful thanks to its rainbow force field surrounding it. Yet, it’s still a place that can kill you either through its mutated beings or by taking over your mind, driving you to the point of insanity. When Dr. Ventress explains to Lena how nothing or nobody they send into The Shimmer ever returns, we’re petrified about the journey before the five women take their first step in. Accompanying the atmosphere is the transfixing score by composers Geoff Barrow and John Salisbury. At times, it is bone chilling in a Kubrickian way and at times, it is euphoric to capture the external beauty found within The Shimmer that is brilliantly lensed by cinematographer Rob Hardy. Aside from the main characters, The Shimmer is able to feel like its own character thanks to its duplicitous nature and its ambiguity as well. Despite the characters resorting to heavy exposition, it is unclear what the true intentions of The Shimmer are. Why is it trying to replicate human or animal life? Where did this force come from? What is its true purpose?
Speaking of the main characters, though, the five main actresses that play them are spectacular. Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez (the film’s MVP), Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny do great work and even if the supporting actresses don’t have characters that are as fleshed out as Portman’s, they’re given distinct personalities to help them stand out; Dr. Ventress is the headstrong leader who continues the expedition as it becomes more dangerous due to her growing curiosity, Anya is the source of humor with an abrasive personality that proves to be no match for the forces around her, Josie is the shy one, and Cass acts as a source of compassion during the more drastic events. As for the main character of Lena, she develops the same desire as Dr. Ventress to find the source of The Shimmer yet she’s able to maintain her grip on reality as the expedition progresses.
The expedition in Annihilation is one of dread and despair yet thanks to the luminous cinematography, the haunting score, the flawless performances, and the ambiguous storytelling, you’re still drawn to this journey like the main characters as they explore The Shimmer. You know that things gets more perilous as the film progresses yet you can never keep your eyes off the screen. This is a film that I guarantee we’ll be talking about for months or perhaps years to come.