It’s funny how the last movie I can recall with a similar title (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) is one of the worst flicks ever made. On the contrary, Alex Garland’s Annihilation is, uhm, how to put it?
Sure, saying that a film directed by Garland and starring Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac is fantastic is as obvious as suggesting The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to someone who wants to be introduced to Western cinema. It’s almost redundant.
Now I should calm myself down and back up a little: Annihilation revolves around the disappearance of biologist Lena (Natalie Portman)’s husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), a soldier who was hired for a mysterious mission and vanished with no explanation. When he comes back sick and apparently deluded, Lena tags along an all-female expedition team headed to “The Shimmer”, an environmental disaster zone that seems to swallow everything that ventures in, where Kane was sent for the aforementioned secret mission.
Within the first 15-20 minutes we are introduced to fantastic, complex characters played marvellously by Isaac and, mostly, Portman, who gives one of the best performances in her entire, already outstanding, career. Arguably, she’s the best female actor working today… for sure, she steals the show here.
Within the first two or three scenes, a sense of urgency and menace is established through fantastic cinematography (Roger Deakins’ level of fantastic!), awkward and intriguing characters’ reactions, mysterious and unpredictable plot, clever use of timeline and so on. This is an almost 2-hour-long film that feels exhausting and extremely quick at the same time: it’s gruelling to go through because it requires a mental effort while also being very intense; it flows quickly because, at the end, you really would like to watch other two hours of that stuff!
Yet, although not conventionally scary, Annihilation features an unreal level of uneasiness, combined with a couple of scenes (one in particular, featuring an ‘unconventional bear’, so to speak) that are pure goosebumps material.
Annihilation is, also, quite a trippy and surreal film, albeit very consistent in its scientific aspects, which are always explained (although the viewer is never spoon-fed) and, due to their realism and similarities to certain human diseases, undeniably unsettling.
Garland and his cinematographer (Rob Hardy) did a fantastic job at creating a visual world where the viewer is enthralled and engrossed, to the point that one can lose themselves in the viewing experience… very much like the characters lose track of everything in The Shimmer. Heavily CGI driven, Annihilation doesn’t feel simulated nor fake at all, thanks to the great combination and symbiosis between practical and special effects.
Furthermore, this film features a few comedic moments that are subtle and effectively put a smile on the audience’s face; it also includes a romance between Portman and Isaac’s characters, which, far from being forced, feels fresh, emotional and somewhat depressing.
Before I delve into my different theories about the meaning of Annihilation, let me just list the problems I had with the movie…
Wait, what? Was I not able to find any flaw? Well, then…
I’m more than enthusiastic to give my second 10/10 grade ever since I created this blog. Also, I want to say something to Garland (who, obviously, isn’t reading this): thank you. Thank you for this masterpiece and for fulfilling my brightest expectations!
MEANING OF THE MOVIE – MY THEORIES (INCLUDING SPOILERS!)
The straightforward theory – Annihilation is simply a beautifully executed, original story of an alien entity that, upon landing on Earth, starts changing our environment. It works through reflection of the DNA: crossbreeds are generated from its influence. Thus, all the weird creatures and beings our characters encounter in The Shimmer come from this weird occurrence. This theory, though, would bring something more complicated to the table, i.e. everything that is and was in The Shimmer, mixes with other things. As a result, Lena can see what’s in her husband’s mind – he’s been there before her and only a part of him has returned – and vice versa, which explains why he knows she cheated on him. See, I told you it was going to be complicated! This would figure an Arrival type of scenario, where our characters know more than what they should because of DNA interactivity.
The cancer theory – this is quite an obvious one: it’s clear within the first fifteen minutes that the premise of Garland’s movie is basically, “What if the Earth got cancer?” This way of explaining Annihilation works because it gives reasons to the characters’ behaviour (within The Shimmer, they act like sick cells), Dr Ventress’ awkwardness (she goes in with cancer, thus she understands and sympathises with the new environment) and the depressing ending: a tumour will always stay with you, once you experience it, whether on a physical or psychological level. In this scenario, our strong female protagonists might as well very much be a metaphor for breast cancer, the most common type of this disease.
The love theory – simply put, love always finds a way, hence the last shot of the film. In this sense, Annihilation might as well be a movie about reincarnation and how people who love each other will always come back to one another, regardless. This explanation, though, doesn’t satisfy me, but it’s in line with the previous Garland’s film, Ex Machina (2014) which delved into themes like identity, love and sense of control in a much more obscure and secretive way than Annihilation.
Perhaps, Annihilation doesn’t fit into any of these theories, or maybe it englobes all of them at ones! What do you guys think? What’s your explanation?
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My review is also available on IMDb – Annihilation