This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Alex Garland
Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror
A moment of silence for the Oscar Isaac chest tattoo that never was. Thank you. It is entirely understandable that given the all-star cast, that white flower deer from the trailer, and a desperate desire for women in science fiction not playing parodies of themselves to want to see Alex Garland’s latest sci-fi yarn, ANNIHILATION. However, that being said, any preconceived notions, or predilections for the film, must be tossed aside with the outside food you tried to sneak in. The sentiment of “I’m like . . . fucked now” made known by the 14-year-old boy exiting the theater, is arguably the only valid response. ANNIHILATION is a film that you don’t necessarily know if you want to see again; however, due to its competency and self-endowed learning curve, you feel you have to.
An implied rendering of the aforementioned 14-year-old boy
Natalie Portman, who still has not aged a day in her life, plays Lena, a morose veteran turned biologist, seeking any sort of solace from her husband Kane’s (Oscar Isaac) assumed military K.I.A. However, amidst the shockingly off-putting folk music and a “change the house to remove the permanence of you” scene, the assumption is refuted and Kane suddenly returns from a mission. What follows is Kane immediately falling ill and Lena being sent to the outskirts of “The Shimmer,” where Kane’s last mission took place. Lena meets and befriends a band of cohorts including Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Cass Shepherd (Tuva Novotny), and Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to enter The Shimmer to find a cure for her husband’s illness. Along the way these women discover the horror of what lies beyond and slowly get picked off one by one as they make their way towards the epicenter.
Although a rather crude comparison to the scope and decadence of the film itself, ANNIHILATION is the impending reality of when PREDATOR meets AVATAR. Perhaps there is a small amount of LORD OF THE FLIES as well. Thankfully though, there is no brooding monologues by the fire, weapons as an extension for masculinity, and violence as a motif for sexual prowess. Instead we have incredible performances mixed with science fiction played out through gory and brutal realism. Gina Rodriguez gives the best performance of the entire film, delivering every line with sincerity and grit. The rest of the cast show versatility coupled with vulnerability while exposed to the juxtaposition of beautiful terrain but haunting malignancies from its inhabitants. One scene in particular involving a bone bear creature with terrifying abilities will leave a particular pit in your stomach.
What a woman, a true queer legend
While EX MACHINA is a powerful film, one that includes social commentary and fetishization of AI, it still quails in comparison to ANNIHILATION. The films are very different and both deserve acclaim and praise; however, in seeing Alex Garland’s second film, everything before it feels like he’s holding back. The shot direction of ANNIHILATION alone could tell you that. In the film, there is an impeccable use of visual metaphors to represent voyeurism. Whether it be Lena and Kane’s hands refracting in a glass of water, speaking and glaring through glass doors of containment cells, or plastic sheets covering rooms, the audience is never allowed to forget of its own spectatorship. Once again the motif relating on a larger scale to the characters themselves (being passersby and onlookers within the realm of “The Shimmer”).
Ridley Scott, who?
The film is not without its flaws—the first act takes a second to find its tonal footing. The score of folk music and adept pacing being used until arriving at “The Shimmer” is undeniably off-kilter. However, these flubs seem moot in comparison to all of the film’s other successes, including the nature-based, Gaspar Noé-esque art direction. ANNIHILATION is a film that will leave you reeling, yet wanting more all at the same time. The “more” not being limited to Alex Garland’s unique and ingenious vision, but science fiction films featuring marginalized, intelligent women of science who have faced trauma but don’t have their strength or capability questioned. ANNIHILATION, with one of the first shots consisting of a science classroom with mostly women of color, seems to be the start of a brand new, hopefully better, era of science fiction.