When novelist and screenplay writer Alex Garland finally took the reigns behind the camera with 2015’s Ex Machina, many wondered if we were seeing the birth of a sci-fi auteur for a new era.
I’m pleased to say that after sitting down for a screening of this weekend’s new release Annihilation, Garland has taken the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, produced an instant classic, and has created a movie which underlines him as the voice of modern sci-fi cinema.
The film stars Natalie Portman (Jackie) as Lena, a a professor of cellular biology at Johns Hopkins (clearly not filmed there). Her husband, played by Oscar Issac, is presumed KIA after never returning home from a top secret military operation. Over a year passes, and one day, he returns, clearly not himself.
Where was he? What happened? The search for those answers, although never clearly illuminated for Lena, leads her to join a group exploring the location of the military operation – a space called “Area X”.
“Area X” was a lighthouse in a state park, which once a meteor collided with it, became enraptured in what is called “The Shimmer”, a bioluminescent glow – similar to the rainbow shine found on rainy pavement. Many have gone in, none have gone out. And Lena – alongside four other women, Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Josie (Tessa Thompson), Cass (Tuva Novotny), and the leader of the “Area X” project, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) – will now go in to discover its mysteries, its truths, and its horrors, for herself.
The story which follows mashes elements of Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and most of all, John Carpenter’s The Thing into a filmgoing experience which feels incredibly creepy, enthralling, and somehow wholly new. The stunning visuals provided by cinematographer Rob Hardy and the visual effects team are equal parts horrific and beautiful – bringing to mind the most horrifying creations of the television version of Hannibal and yet also some of the most breathtaking floral presentations you’ve ever seen. Each frame is a delight for the eyes, even in moments where you wish to pull yourself away. It’s wrapped in a score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, which includes beautiful acoustic guitar and horrifying ambient noises. The light and the dark live on in every second, and its only amplified by this score.
For 115 minutes, this movie took me on a true journey, one of life, discovery, shock and gut-wrenching terror – and it leaves you wish just enough to dissect, discuss and take apart for years to come. Annihilation will stand the test of time.
This is where I make a hard ask of you, dear reader.
If you’re reading this post, chances are it’s because you love movies like The Thing, Alien and 2001. You like to be challenged. You like movies that don’t give you the easy out, the clear solution. You need to see this movie in theaters so more like it get made. That, or you’ll risk not being that nerd at the table 5 years from now being able to see “You saw it on Netflix? I saw it on the big screen, like it was supposed to be seen.”
Highest possible recommendation.