based on the novel Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
written and directed by Alex Garland
A meteor crashes on Earth, creating a dangerous expanding zone from which no one seems to return. After a year in the quarantined area, U.S. soldier Kane (Oscar Isaac) suddenly reappears, deathly ill and with no recollection of what happened to him. A scientific expedition of five women, including the soldier’s biologist wife Lena (Natalie Portman), enters the kaleidoscopic expanse – the government has named it The Shimmer – and soon they discover that animals and plants are going through some sort of mutation. What’s behind it? And could this metamorphosis eventually wipe out all life as we know it?
Annihilation, Alex Garland’s second movie as writer/director, follows his Ex Machina (2015) in economy of characters. But whereas Ex Machina was mostly constricted to one space, Annihilation‘s canvas is broader. Working from the first novel of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, his focus shifts from artificial to extraterrestrial intelligence, yet in both cases the preoccupation is the same: The extinction – or perhaps evolution – of the human race.
The result is small-scale and intellectually stimulating, a great companion piece to Arrival (2016), another recent sci-fi film that dealt with similar topics in a thought-provoking way. Towards the climax of Annihilation there’s a scene in which Lena encounters a strange being that starts to mimic her every move. Accompanied by the uncanny sounds of Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s score, it’s intimate, horrifying, and beautiful all at the same time, an unforgettable piece of performance art. Wherever Garland goes next, I’m in.
Carlos I. Cuevas