Directed by Alex Garland
Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson
Director Alex Garland, the mind behind the twisted Ex Machina, returns with a sci-fi thriller that is equal parts epically terrifying and mind-numbingly intelligent. With a stellar ensemble cast including Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Oscar Isaac, Annihilation works effectively on many parallel levels that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can find.
Portman is Lena, a biologist whose husband (Oscar Isaac) had been taken by government agents on his way to the hospital after returning from a top secret military mission. In an effort to get past her pain, plus potentially learn what happened to him, she signs up for a mission in an environmental disaster zone. The scope of the mission is unknown, but without anything else on which to devote her time, it seems like the ultimate job task.
She's brought to a military and scientific base, known as Area X, just outside a shimmering electromagnetic field that covers miles and miles of forest and beach. Lena finds her husband is being kept in the facility, under watch and in a coma. She soon learns he was the only member of his team to return. And, now, she was being asked to extend her expertise towards a new research mission into the field.
The discoveries inside are beautiful displays of science and nature, until many of the mutations lead to mental episodes, attacks, and ultimately death. Accompanying Lena is a team made up of women, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing a psychologist running the mission, Tessa Thompson, playing a scientist, Gina Rodriguez, playing a paramedic, and Tuva Novotny, also playing a scientist. The group's collective differences in personalities provide a perfect example of the human connection. With their wit and smarts about them, the team leads an apt mission, until strange incidents begin to occur.
Garland, a masterful storyteller who's learned exactly when to divulge information, but never too much, aces this weird and strange horror of a film. The visuals are stunning and interesting, adding to the intrigue behind what's really happening. When the true action starts, it's in the other elements where the film's best tropes shine. In particular, the use of sounds catapults us, as the audience, into the unfamiliar space, giving an even larger push towards the bizarre. Even the most familiar of places and scenes feels icky and hard to grasp.
The meat of the story is hard to digest, with scientific dialogue giving the film permission to carry on without explaining the intricacies of what's happening. By the end, it isn't in the science that we find our answer, instead it's in the experience. And this is quite the experience to almost all of the senses. The third act, especially, is an amalgam of unique and cleverly created imagery that's so unnerving and mesmerizing it's hard to even explain. Opting for the use of sounds, again, dialogue almost ceases to even exist, transplanting us into this rich and hypnotizing source of energy.
If any film has ever deserved the monicker of being a mindfuck, Annihilation is it. I almost wish I'd gone back and seen it after stopping by my local MedMen.
See this film on the big screen. Keep an open mind. Be terrorized and energized.
Runtime: 1h 55 min