Annihilation, equal parts gruesome and beautiful, is a chance to see some of our finest actors working in their prime. It’s a sci-fi tale that focuses on an introspective look at humankind’s flawed relationship with biology on a micro, macro, and cosmic scale. Check it out in theaters to appreciate the fantastic visuals.
The Good: Annihilation boasts a stunningly amazing cast to play the intrepid explorers of the unnatural Shimmer that is slowly expanding over a Florida state park. Natalie Portman delivers a largely stoic performance as a cellular biology professor with an army background as she attempts to play peacekeeper between her fellow volunteer explorers as their mission dissolves into madness. However, as time jumps around (and time does jump around quite a bit) she also displays an affectionate, fun, and quite endearing chemistry with her husband (Oscar Isaac).
Portman’s co-stars also display a wonderful range as their characters’ personalities are affected by the presence of the Shimmer. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) is weary from the lost expeditions into the Shimmer and is largely cold, while on the opposite side we see Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) vocally and emotionally feeding off of paranoia and amplifying the fear of the unknown. Filling out the group, Tessa Thompson plays the timid, calculating scientist that is nearly polar opposite to her charismatic and charming portrayal of Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok.
The Florida setting and its swampy wilderness is already brimming with enough danger without a menacing bubble engulfing it, but the atmosphere of the film is what really sells the concept and defines the fantastical and macabre beauty of the evolving nature the characters encounter. Each set in the film looks like it could be apart of an art installation and even the most grotesque features and creatures had me indecisive as to if I should look away in horror or to stare and soak in every ounce of gorgeous detail.
The Bad: This is Alex Garland’s second hand at pulling double duty of directing and writing a film, following up 2015’s critical success, Ex Machina, and while Annihilation is not a bad film by any means, it does have some big shoes to fill. The biggest critiques when comparing the two films is that Ex Machina seemed much easier to follow and understand while still delivering a fantastic sci-fi setting and twists in the story. It was a self contained story and had great characters building off one another. In Annihilation, the story entirely relies on Portman’s character and motivations, which feels rushed in the beginning scenes. Her history with her husband, a university faculty member, and another government employee are featured so briefly, we don’t get to understand her entire thought process and feelings she has about her actions in the movie.
The Ugly: Really nothing to mention here. Besides a climax that had me so distracted with visual effects that I couldn’t really decipher what was happening, but that just gives me an excuse to catch the film again later and really think about it.
Synopsis: As an unnatural shimmering dome slowly grows over a Florida state park, a volunteer group of scientists and researchers are sent in to discover the cause of the phenomenon where several previous military expeditions have already failed.