Walking out of the theaters, I did not know what to feel after watching Annihilation. The one word that circled in my head was “bizarre.” Long after I left the theater, it was difficult to form an opinion, as there was much to love about the film, and yet it ultimately felt inconclusive. Alex Garland’s latest science fiction film Annihilation, based on the novel of the same name, is certainly a peculiar film.
Natalie Portman stars as Lena, an ex-military biology professor, whose husband mysteriously returns from an undisclosed mission. After a year’s absence, he returns but is not quite the same, and soon collapses. After Lena and her husband are taken to the site of the mission, Lena learns about the Shimmer. Strange and deadly, the Shimmer is the site of an alien asteroid crash, shrouded in a colorful shimmering field. Lena’s husband had embarked on a mission with other military soldiers to explore the world of the Shimmer. As all previous explorers had disappeared, his return was an odd case. Lena decides to embark on a final mission to finish what her husband started. Joined by four other women, she ventures into the Shimmer to reach the lighthouse, the site of the asteroid crash.
Each of the women are said to be qualified in different fields, as Dr. Ventress (portrayed by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the head of the operation, Josie (Tessa Thompson) is a physicist, and Anya (Gina Rodriguez) is a paramedic. However, as the team explores the Shimmer, none of their skills are showcased or used to give the characters depth.
Lena is the only character who uses her expertise in biology to attempt to understand the Shimmer and what it does to those who enter it. However, when the actors are able to show the emotional toll the Shimmer takes on their characters, strong performances shine through. Overall, each actor makes the most of their screen time, giving a full character arc to each team member.
Viewers will definitely be captivated by the fantastical world of the Shimmer. A color palette straight out of a saturated polaroid gives the eerie setting of the movie a strange beauty. Everything in the Shimmer is warped, but colorful and washed out with light, serving as a visual treat in a cinematic environment. The beauty of the shimmer is matched by the monsters it contains, with mutant alligators and horrific bear hybrids, which are shown attacking the team at various times throughout the film.
Annihilation boasts strong performances, an intriguing premise, and brilliant visuals, and these elements come together to give an extremely bizarre and creepy end result. Much of this is due to the themes presented in the story, as well as the lack of an explanation as to what actually is the Shimmer.
By choosing to remain inconclusive about the Shimmer and its meaning, the film raises more questions than it answers, leading to an overdrawn romp through an alien type world, much like Alien Covenant (2017). The biggest issue of this film is its love of mystery and providing style rather than substance.