Full disclosure. I've had a mad Natalie Portman crush since Episode II. That's hard to maintain after that train wreck.
Annihilation is of course based of a novel by the same name (author Jeff VanderMeer) because what movies aren't based off books these days (not a bad thing). It was adapted to the screen by Alex Garland (Ex Machina, 28 Days Later which are both fantastic films). Garland rarely misses and he doesn't here.
The quick and dirty of the story is that an alien effect on the environment known as the Shimmer as enveloped a small area of swampland known as Area X. A group known as the Southern Reach Agency plants themselves firmly next to it to discover what is going on. This leads to several failed missions the results of which were never known.
Cue in a biologist named Lena (Natalie Portman) who believes that her husband Kane (Oscar Issac) is dead only for him to show up confused and sick at the front door. She takes it upon herself to find out what happened in Area X and why her husband went on a suicide mission.
"Never mind how pale you are, you've got some seriously fucked up teeth." - Biologist
I won't ruin the story for you by giving you the rest of the plot, but suffice to say it works. It is a thoughtful and powerful story that for me focused heavily on the philosophical questions we face regarding change and how we perceive it. When that change is unstoppable then it really begins to tackle the viewer's psyche about self destruction. The film makes it a point to let you know that everyone demonstrates self destructive behaviors. It can hit home for those of us who have a drink after a hard day, smokers or those who use those things to cope with mental disorders. For the biologist, she had an affair while her husband was out on a mission. This is a part I found strange considering she was in the Army for seven years. I know cheating is bad, but from my understanding when you cheat on a soldier it is REALLY bad. It doesn't take away from the movie. Just a personal observation.
The female cast are the all-stars though of this film. Recently, the number of female led movies coming out are increasing, but this should push that number to the limits. Natalie Portman (God yes), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Dr. Ventress), Gina Rodriquez (Anya Thorensen), Tessa Thompson (Josie Radek) and Tuva Novotny (Cass Sheppard) are a brilliant mix and play off each other perfectly. Honestly, I have heard of none of them (save for Natalie of course), but they deserve more screen time. The acting brings out the best of an already great script. Each of the characters brings something that will elicit emotion from the audience and if it doesn't then I gotta question if you have a soul. Each has a particular reason that brings them to Area X. Cancer, death and depression are just a couple of the reasons. All have relate-able personal situations that will yank memories from the deepest recesses of your mind and put them on the table.
It was that powerful. Not since Interstellar did I walk out of the theater and reflect on aspects of my own life.
At the heart of it though, Annihilation is still a science fiction movie with philosophical undertones. It does a good job of breaking the recent trends of science fiction cinemas tropes too. No dystopian wastelands, no sprawling cyber punk cities and no bombed out husks of society. Instead, the audience is treated to a delightfully fresh perspective on biology focusing on the atom sized changes caused by the Shimmer and the horrible consequences.
Now for the science fiction stuff.
The audience learns within the first twenty minutes or so what the hell is going on. The Shimmer is a place that turns the world on its head, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. Spoiler: It refracts the DNA of everything it is encompasses and that means EVERYTHING. The plants and animals are all affected turning some of your everyday creatures into monstrosities.
When you change the basic structure of life, it is less Professor X and more alien xenomorph.
I think I read somewhere this is what happens when you vaccinate your kids.
The squad encounters various biological phenomena. Some quite beautiful and others, like the gator shown earlier, deadly. The Shimmer manages to refract the DNA of all living creatures it encompasses resulting in some wild and surprisingly insightful changes to the structure of whatever it encounters. Plants shaped like people, rainbow fungus and deer with flowers growing out of their antlers. It's beautiful in a way even though each character realizes that the Shimmer is an unstoppable force destined to destroy the world as we know it.
There are definitely a few puzzling moments. One in particular is how the Shimmer impacts the characters as they progress further into Area X. I won't spoil it for you, but not all of them experience the same level of alterations and there is really no explanation. That's not a terrible thing and it doesn't take away from the movie, but it certainly can confuse an unwary viewer.
The last part of the movie is a complete mindfuck for all intents and purposes. You have to pay attention if you hope to remotely grasp what is going on. If you don't then you'll be googling the novel and trying to decipher the changes made between Jeff VanderMeer and Alex Garland.
Good luck with that.
I'm not going to get into what this is because I haven't the faintest fucking clue.
The movie is slow to start, but traverses deeper meanings in our life beyond what the future might hold. When you can get in the car afterwards and talk about the Shimmer, the character's stories and decisions then you have a good one.
Annihilation follows a personal journey that culminates in a gorgeous array of interweaving science fiction and quality script writing. Go see it. Give it a chance even you aren't a science fiction fan.
Here's the trailer:
*All images/videos are copyright of Paramount Pictures