Annihilation is a skillfully crafted sci-fi from the brilliant mind of Alex Garland, that will leave you seeking answers long after the credits have ended.
Loosely based on the bestselling novel by Jeff VanderMeer, this cerebral film reflects and fragments 2016’s Arrival and offers more questions than answers akin to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
So why is it the powerhouse studio Paramount got cold feet about the profitability of the film’s cinematic release? Arrival garnered critical accolades after its release, and 2001 is considered by many to be one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time.
In the end, it came down to the test-screenings. Results indicated the movie might be “too intellectual” for mainstream audiences. Paramount subsequently decided to cut their losses – handing the film’s international release over to Netflix.
It’s true that Annihilation’s ominous tone and examination of the essence of humanity won’t be for everyone. But in an era where the genre too often leans towards the predictable and explosive, a film that is meticulously designed to allow for intellectual engagement is long overdue.
Annihilation follows a highly-skilled team (a biologist, psychologist, physicist, geologist and a paramedic) sent to investigate The Shimmer – a phenomenon believed to have been triggered by a meteor that has engulfed a region of swampland. The steadily expanding Shimmer is having a profound impact on all living things within and entering its prism. And it’s not without terror and tension – challenging the team’s assumptions of what is explainable.
Natalie Portman stars as the film’s protagonist Lena – a biology professor whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) is the only soldier of several expeditions to re-emerge after entering the unknown and hostile area. But the man that returns to her is not the same. After disappearing for a year, Kane has no memory and rapidly deteriorating health. Lena volunteers for what is the next “suicide” mission in hopes of finding answers.
With Annihilation, the devil is in the details. There are ‘easter eggs’ spread throughout Garland’s deliberate and precisely executed film. All you have to do is look for them to find deeper meaning.
Consider Lena’s Ouroboros tattoo – the snake that eats its tail to sustain life. The Ouroboros symbolises the nature of the universe. Life out of death. Hardly a coincidence considering the film’s themes of the human propensity for self-destruction.
What’s interesting about this tattoo is that it’s not unchanging. Throughout the film, it appears and disappears on different characters, including paramedic Anya (Gina Rodriguez) and Lena’s husband, Kane. Is the tattoo the mark of The Shimmer? Has it been fragmented from a previous victim who entered? Best left for you to decide.
Laced throughout Garland’s female-driven masterpiece is striking imagery that toe the line between beauty and macabre. It’s near impossible to avoid the memes circulating social media that show the moment the team come face to face with a mutated bear (if you can call it that). There’s no doubt these videos were created as a coping mechanism since the scene itself is one of nightmares. As the beast stalks its prey, it emits the distorted voice of its last human victim. The film isn’t a horror, but what we see is genuinely terrifying.
Reports from camp Annihilation is that there was disagreement regarding proposed reshoots that would have changed the ending. Garland held firm in his convictions though. It’s open-ended and so may not be pleasing to all audiences. But those who’ve seen Garland’s directorial debut Ex Machina (2014) will appreciate how the conclusion is true to form.
Annihilation tackles the complex subject of human nature (self-destruction, grief and guilt) in an incredibly enlightened way. It requires patience from its viewers and consideration that will prove satisfying to those who submit themselves.
Oscar Isaac filmed this movie and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) on adjacent studio lots. He had the same trailer for both films and would often film scenes for both movies on the same day.