Out of all of the genres of film, the one that intrigues me the most is science-fiction. I’ve always felt a connection to the characters and their predicaments, making them more enjoyable for me. In 2015, first-time director Alex Garland released Ex Machina, a film which showed the dangers of interaction between us and technology, and attempted to define what it meant to be human. He returns with Annihilation, an exploration of nature and evolution. It’s a trippy, beautiful journey worth remembering: only if you can get your head around it, though.
Annihilation‘s concept is pretty simple. The film follows Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist whose Special Forces husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns after a mission which he supposedly never came back from. When he becomes ill, she’s recruited (along with four other women) to venture into the Shimmer, an anomaly that’s been growing for years. Out of all the expeditions prior, Kane was the only person to return, leaving the interior a mystery. As they venture closer to their destination, however, they begin to notice changes in the environment, such as hybridization and mutation.
Natalie Portman delivers a brilliant performance, definitely one of the best I’ve seen all year. In films like this, where members of a group are expected to be picked off one by one, it’s easy to not expect the acting quality to be good. That being said, the character of Lena is crafted so brilliantly that it’s impossible to watch this movie without appreciating the delivery. Alex Garland’s masterful script and direction play into this as well, leading to an ultimate conclusion that he’s one of the best in the business.
The visuals are absolutely stunning. Ex Machina landed a Best Visual Effects win at the 2016 Academy Awards, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this film did at next year’s. Every shot is a mesmerizing trip, inching you towards the mysterious truth of the film’s events. However, unlike other films, it doesn’t focus on its visuals. It chooses to have them as what they should be: a backdrop for the characters and the story.
If I were to have any gripes with this film (which I really don’t), the weakest element would be the other characters. With Lena, you can feel the emotional impact on the audience she leaves. However, with other characters such as Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Radek (Tessa Thompson), Thorenson (Gina Rodriguez), and Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), there isn’t as much depth or complexity. Then again, it’s not really necessary for their characters, because their stories aren’t the focus.
Annihilation is, simply put, one of the greatest science-fiction movies of all time, and the best film I’ve seen all year. Its characters are brilliant, and it sends extraordinary messages about evolution and the environment’s impact on us. If you’re confused by the ending, you’re not alone. I was at first, too. Give it some time, however, and you’ll see it as what it is: a phenomenal work of art.
Annihilation stars Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny. Directed by Alex Garland.