REVIEW: Annihilation (2018) Alex Garland Delivers a Heady & Compelling Entry into the Hard Science Fiction Canon


Writer/Director Alex Garland follows up 2015’s Ex Machina with a film that samples some of science fiction cinema’s heavy hitters to deliver a compelling narrative on what it means to be human.

Alex Garland’s 2015 film Ex Machina was one of the most unique and engaging hard science fiction films in year. It was one of the films that put indie distributor A24 on the map and helped establish actors Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander in a compact storyline dealing with an AI learning what it is to be human with all the shades of grey and deception that can often entail in a unique take on nature vs. nurture. Garland has a skill for using unique allegories to establish the darker side of man’s core. From 2002’s 28 Days Later to 2007’s Sunshine, Garland has employed a hard science fiction conceit to tackle the degeneration of character in humanity when left to its own devices for too long. Annihilation, based on the series of books by Jeff VanderMeer, follows that fascination with the inevitable cancer of the human condition left to grow unattended.

Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist specializing in the growth and division of cancerous cells. At the time we meet her character, she is mourning the seeming death of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), a covert ops officer who has disappeared on an undisclosed mission. As Elena paints her bedroom months after his disappearance, he suddenly appears out of the blue, with no knowledge of who he is or how he got there, only knowing he had to find Lena. After a brief reunion, he suddenly convulses and starts hemorrhaging blood. As Lena tries to save him, their ambulance is stopped by an armed force which takes Elena and Kane to an undisclosed area. Here, Lena is confronted with knowledge of the organization Kane worked for, The Southern Reach, and the secret they have been hiding; a fissure in reality known as ‘The Shimmer.’ No one knows what The Shimmer is; no one has come back after entering it; save Kane. Lena joins with The Reach’s director, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her team Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), a physicist; Cass Shepherd (Tuva Novotny), an anthropologist; and Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), a paramedic; in order to see what lies beyond and to see if it can be contained before it continues to expand and consume the Earth.

Annihilation is a unique and compelling film, highly reminiscent of Andrei Tarkovsky’s seminal science fiction classic Solaris. As Elena’s clue goes further into the Shimmer; its unique nature causes the crew to schism. Alliances are tested and shaken and the landscape itself is ever shifting and changing; dividing and changing the very nature of the creatures and fauna there as well as the team themselves. There is an intelligence to this unknown land, one that may not want anything; but one that creates just to create. How the team deals with what they encounter is what shapes their experience. What they find in The Shimmer is also very reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in that it makes one question their place in the universe and the team confronts both real dread with elements of Altered States and other body horror classics and existential dread.

In the end, Annihilation is a film that makes you think and its pedigree of influences along with its strong performances make it a science fiction film worth rewatching and parsing. There’s a lot to digest but it makes a sumptuous meal for fans of horror and compelling human drama.

This entry was posted in Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.