Movie Review | Annihilation
Movie summary: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don't apply. (IMDb)
I have to admit right at the start that before deciding to write a full review post for this movie, I had only ever seen Annihilation on a tablet screen. Part of the reason why is because it never had a full cinema release in the UK; the other reason is that having a screen that could be carried around, allowing my surroundings to change from viewing to viewing seemed to fit the movie perfectly.
Just think about that: I was more than happy to put this movie in my list of favourite movies from 2018 without ever seeing it on even a medium-sized screen, let alone a big one. And it genuinely is that good a movie, because while the screen size certainly helps appreciate the stunning visuals more, everything else is so well done that it feels like any screen will do.
Annihilation is an unsettling movie to watch, especially after the all-female team of scientists enter the area known as 'The Shimmer'. The constant kaleidoscopic rainbow lighting is part of that, but the general disorientation of the characters and the excellent production design trigger an almost 'wildlife uncanny valley'.
It's a feeling that grows stronger for both the audience and the characters as they progress deeper into the mutated wilds, dealing with some truly bizarre and often macabre sights. I wouldn't say that Annihilation is a movie about religion, but it's definitely in the vein of science coming up against something it can't explain.
And that theme is something that the film challenges the audience with too: here's something that doesn't make sense and you're not going to be given any answers - what do you do? I imagine some will be frustrated, if not angry, with the lack of answers given to us, but I was as intrigued by everything I saw much the same as more than one of the characters.
It really is the sort of movie where different people will take different things from it. I've already seen plenty of people say they dislike the story, but love the audio-visual design of the movie; and vice versa, there are those who - while they might appreciate the latter - are far more interested in trying to unravel Annihilation's story and the events that unfold on-screen.
Then there's people like me who really, really enjoy both. I love Annihilation, but I think the nature of the story and how we experience it almost feels like a necessary 'fault' that stops it from becoming a genuine classic piece of science-fiction. It's one of those strange situations where, if you tried to 'correct' the movie, it would only make it a worse experience.
The ethereal atmosphere, coupled with the gradual unravelling of the characters means that everything feels 'slippery', as if the answers are in your hands, but end up slipping through your fingers like grains of sand. That might sound a little poetic, but that's what this film does to - it defies description, much like the environment of The Shimmer.
Which leads me to finally gush about just how gorgeous this movie looks. I could appreciate the design work on a smaller screen, but it looks absolutely magnificent when watched on a big TV screen - it irritates me that this didn't get a proper cinema release in the UK, although I'm glad I got to see this fantastic film for 'free' as part of my Netflix subscription.
It's not just the lighting either, it's the plant and animal life that they encounter, along with certain forms that have the features of both. I won't say anymore, but every 'designed' life-form looks amazing and interesting - and one in particular appears during what is easily the most terrifying sequence in Annihilation, which even people who dislike the film will probably still 'enjoy'.
The score is also incredible, with music that fits every scene and just adds to the unsettling experience that is watching Annihilation. It's not something that's intentionally discordant and strange, and instead is a perfect match for the cinematography - it's 'off' by just enough for you to recognise that something is wrong, but unable to place exactly what that 'something' is.
One last final word for the cast of mainly women, who all give different, but equally convincing performances of people slowly losing their sense of self. I have to praise Natalie Portman especially, who is fantastic as Lena. I don't want to sound harsh, but Portman has given the impression of 'coasting' through other performances, but that certainly isn't the case here.
I also want to praise Tessa Thompson for her performance as Josie. I've seen some people criticise her acting prowess - especially on Westworld - but going from seeing her as the loud and aggressive Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok to the more cerebral and softly-spoken scientist here shows her range and just how talented an actress she really is.
Annihilation is the kind of movie that will linger in your mind long after you've seen it. Maybe you'll be frustrated at the lack of cathartic closure the story provides, maybe you'll be a fan of the incredible creature and production design, maybe the score will do it for you. In keeping with the movie, there's something dream-like in how pieces of it will stay with you, and some parts you'll forget entirely.
Annihilation is a fever-trip dream/nightmare of a movie that definitely won't be to everyone's tastes - the ending in particular. It's utterly absorbing to watch and something that will stay with you for a long time afterwards, but the dream-like nature of the story means it lacks a certain solidity and can occasionally feel a little aimless as a result.