Alex Garland is one of those creators that have been around forever, but you probably never heard of him. The Beach, 28 Days Later, and Sunshine are just a few movies he has written with frequent collaborator Danny Boyle. It was not until after Dredd in 2012 that Garland made his directorial debut with the excellent Ex Machina. Can he keep up the momentum with his second effort Annihilation or does he have a long way to go?
After being reunited with her husband under strange circumstances Lena, played by Natalie Portman, journeys into the Shimmer, an anomaly her husband was sent to investigate. As her team of four other scientists travels to the epicenter, they discover the environment has changed in ways they could have never imagined.
Take a typical John Carpenter movie like The Thing or Prince of Darkness and imagine it in the hands of Christopher Nolan. What you get is a highbrow kind of science fiction that is also weird and otherworldly with a good dose of guns and gore. Annihilation does not pretend to be smart, but does not out-right explain itself in a fashion not unlike Interstellar. Questions are answered, yet the movie relies on you, the audience, to understand what is happening. At the same time, it uses its complex concepts as an excuse to be as strange as possible.
The Shimmer mixes and matches the cells of organic life. Plants grow in the shape of people, alligators are combined with sharks, and a bear takes on traits of the prey it kills. It is a perfect opportunity for exotic set pieces like colorful fungus and flowers of different shapes on a single stem. The diversity of the changes translates to the characters as they walk through the Shimmer. With touches of body horror and the otherworldly environment, Annihilation becomes a great example of Lovecraftian horror that I do not want to spoil.
Given the visual implications of the film’s set up, it was up to Garland to put the exoticism of the environment on display. As you can see in trailers, the color pallet is rather muted with a hazy filter. While this could be a result of using real film (I have no idea), it works to the movie’s advantage. It creates an atmosphere of dread that becomes confusing when all the color comes into play. The Shimmer and its side effects are bright and rich, luring you into a false sense of security. Everything is alien and dangerous, but it looks gentle and welcoming. Suddenly a rainbow does not look so nice when you see an albino crocodile or plants in the shape of people.
I would also like to make note of the soundtrack. It is very reminiscent of Arrival with a lot of ambient, industrial noise. However, it is synthesized and mixed very well to supplement the tension of certain scenes. The ending in particular has a track that plays very loud for a short period before it cuts at the perfect moment. I highly recommend looking up the soundtrack before getting a ticket.
Annihilation feels like it should be bigger or that it deserves more attention. It is weird, original, and a movie that feels better suited for the summer or fall release schedule. It creates an honest facade of intelligent science fiction while having fun with its concept. Garland once again proves himself and such quality is often reserved for later in the year. Skip everything else this week (I have no clue what’s out anyway) and see Annihilation. It is more than worth your attention.