Alex Garland's Annihilation is an overly-complicated "thinking man's" sci-fi film that short-changes its characters and undercuts their progression in exchange for enough room to breathe its heady and spiritual undertones. It's the longest two hours I've felt in months.
Dredd writer (yay) and Ex Machina director/writer (boo) Alex Garland is back with a slightly larger budgeted science fiction movie titled Annihilation, based off of James VanderMeer‘s novel, starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson and Oscar Isaac.
For every minute that Annihilation attempts to dig deeper into the meaning of life and the creation of the atom, it equally falls back on its characters, undercutting their effectiveness and voiding their relationships as the film journeys deeper into the unknown, attempting to discover the alien nature of life, but only really exposing the flaws of a talented visual artist that just doesn’t know how to hone in on his story.
The film unfolds in a painfully frustrating timeline that has Natalie Portman‘s Lena retelling what she believes has happened over a period of time. Lena is a brilliant biologist with a military background that misses her husband (Oscar Isaac). Her husband Kane has disappeared after leaving for a secret expedition that Lena later finds out is the studying of an alien crash site, deemed The Shimmer. Kane returns to Lena, but only physically, not mentally, which is why Lena must now cross over into The Shimmer, to try and understand what happened to Kane and what this means for all of mankind.
Inside this rainbow-colored wash there is no radio connection or real definition of the laws of nature. Lena and her team discover crossbred species and weird trees and vegetation that seem to constantly grow and adapt.
The deeper the team ventures, the more messed up and bizarre the whole experience becomes as Lena’s hopes to find out what happened to her husband soon turn into reflections of her own imperfections and broken relationships.
Annihilation isn’t an easy film to digest and writer/director Alex Garland makes sure of that by slowing down the film’s pacing and focusing far too less on the actual characters and interactions and instead the rich and dense visuals that he has captured.
I’m not going to lie and call Annihilation an ugly or pointless film, because it most certainly is not. But it’s also not as smart or as well-rounded as it pretends to be. The last act really does challenge viewers as it makes bold strokes against what it means to exist, both from a scientific standpoint and a spiritual one.
But it does so in a way that short-changes the film’s characters and their actual progression through the story and overall effectiveness on the production. Slowly (and I do mean slowly), you start to lose that core connection with Lena and the other women as they start to unravel the mystery.
The horror and suspense keep the film feeling like a nail-biting thriller, despite its true intentions to confuse, complicate and then under-sell its eventual closing moments.
As far as I’m concerned, Alex Garland is 0 for 2 as a director. Ex Machina literally put me to sleep, while Annihilation induced a state of extreme yawning. I’m sure people will attack me for not “understanding” or “appreciating” the beauty and complexity of the film and that’s fine by me, because I refuse to praise or celebrate a film that makes you feel like you got out of a Quantum Physics test at the end.
Was it hard to understand or visualize what Garland was trying to say? Not really, but did it feel like he was putting you through the paces to simply say, “hey, I can disguise my latest sci-fi slog as a layered masterpiece that you’ll pretend to love.” To which I would respond by saying yes.
Annihilation might look and sound like it’s reinventing the science fiction wheel, but it’s really just another Alien ripoff, only without the talent of Sir Ridley Scott. I applaud Garland for going “all-in”, but unfortunately it just didn’t have nearly the same impact on me as it did on the rest of the world.