Gimme Something to Watch: Annihilation (2018)
It’s a feeling I know all too well when an amazing work of art is released into the world and the vocal majority of users don’t get it, and therefore find it necessary to complain about how bad it is. I saw Annihilation in the theater (the way it was meant to be seen, but more on that later) and found it to be just about perfect and one of the best sci-fi films made in the past decade… only to hop onto Instagram and find normies bitching about how boring, stupid, pointless – and a plethora of other inaccurate adjectives – it was. Here is my warning: Annihilation is for fans of intelligent sci-fi, not for people who enjoy Transformers movies.
A meteor hits Earth and what radiates from the crash site is a swirling, colorful bubble that slowly increases in size, enveloping the land over time, called the Shimmer. Military bros set up a base near the outskirts of where the meteor crashed and sent in a couple of scouting parties, as they are wont to do. I’m sure you can guess that said parties do not return… until of course one man, Kane (Oscar Isaac), does. Kane’s wife Lena (Natalie Portman), is at home lamenting the loss of her husband when he casually, and lifelessly, comes home and surprises her. Kane is acting very weird and not providing much information, so Lena is understandably worried. He suffers an extreme medical condition and on the way to a healthcare facility, some military bros come whisk the two away to the compound mentioned earlier for interrogation. While Kane is on life support, the head of the operation Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) assembles a party of women to investigate the Shimmer; the assumption is that if all those who failed in the past were male, perhaps there’s something inherent about females that will give them a better chance of survival.
That’s all the plot I want to give away, for the events which unfold are best kept a surprise. The script, written by director Alex Garland and based on a book by Jeff VanderMeer, contains a huge amount of heady concepts that may fly over the heads of viewers who apparently didn’t go to the theater to think. Though told with somewhat conventional Hollywood plotting, the film does not follow a series of events that most mainstream movies embody; and just like with a good LSD or mushroom trip, is best enjoyed by surrendering your consciousness and just going along for the ride. What I mean is that it would behoove the audience member to keep from asking questions or trying to find logic for the events which transpire whilst watching it, just let go and let the movie guide you. Have faith in the world Alex Garland has created and you shall be rewarded.
The visuals of Annihilation are breathtaking and just as trippy as any movie I’ve ever seen. The comparison to a psychedelic trip made earlier is extremely fitting, as colors shift and shine vibrantly every moment that our team of women is inside the Shimmer in search of the meter’s point of impact. The sky is made of shifting patterns that tend to pop as if experiencing a vivid psylocybin trip, animals and plant life are transformed into wild shapes and sizes that push one’s imagination, and there are several instances of extreme body horror that will be ingrained into your consciousness for weeks after watching it. There are some truly frightening scenes that may invade your sleep at night, and while I’m going to keep this review spoiler-free, there is one specific scene involving a bear which is often discussed on Instagram — the stuff of nightmares. But the horror is interspersed with an immense sense of beauty as well, for instance the humanoid-like trees scattered throughout the landscape inside the Shimmer (and yes they are explained at some point):
The mysteries of the Shimmer are related to biology, and that’s as much as I can spoil for you. The meter that crashed on Earth and started this wild chain of events is not some villain like one finds in the Marvel movies, it’s way more complex and nuanced; and I think that is what turned many movie-goers away from the film. I can’t tell you how many people called it “stupid” on social media, when it is in fact one of the least stupid movies I have seen on the silver screen as an adult! But can I blame people who are force-fed a new Transformers or Madea movie every year? Well yes, I kind of can, because it seems the studios might quit making movies like Annihilation if they continue to receive poor audience reception (it has a mere 68% audience score on RottenTomatoes) and low ticket sales (Paramount Studios sold the distribution rights to Annihilation to Netflix after only a few weeks of theater showings). I cannot stress how horrible this news is, folks! If people quit going to the cinema to see brilliant sci-fi films like this, studios may quit making them.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be this surprised that most people didn’t enjoy Annihilation, after all my favorite genre of music (heavy metal) is quite misunderstood by the masses. Some of the best art can be abrasive, weird, trippy, unconventional, frightening and it’s going to scare some people off (or at the worst, become silenced/censored by people who do not approve of it, for instance the recent controversy involving Taake). Anyways, back to the movie…
Alex Garland’s script follows the typical Hollywood pacing a little, but I’m willing to forgive that. There’s a basic three-beat arc in which our protagonists encounter a mild threat early on in the movie, a larger threat about halfway-through (the bear I mentioned earlier), and then there’s the final showdown that we call the climax. When the team of scientists/researchers whom we’ve been following for most of the journey through the Shimmer reach the impact site of the meter, things get insane. My jaw was agape for the roughly 20 minutes of events which occur upon that final discovery.
Overall, I’d rate this movie a 95%. The visuals were unlike anything I’d seen on screen, the special effects were terrific. The couple of scenes of body horror left an imprint in my mind that’s not going away any time soon, and the climax of the movie had an entire audience of movie-goers holding their breath for the events which unfolded. Alex Gardland, who recently directed Ex Machina, is a master science fiction filmmaker who is also pretty handy with a script (he also wrote 28 Days Later, Dredd, and Sunshine). Annihilation is magnificent, intelligent, creepy, and beautiful; and might turn out to be my favorite movie of the year. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes smart sci-fi and the occasional psychedelic trip to a realm of consciousness beyond our imagination. Do not listen to the normies on social media who trash it because they didn’t understand what was going on, or because it was too unconventional for modern cinema. I loved it.
(the images contained in this article are all screenshots that I took)