Unusual is an understatement. There’s a dreamlike quality to its narrative, which flows forwards and backwards in time, leaving a pervading disorientation that masks just how thin the story really is. It’s an altogether uneasy mix that succeeds in being highly disturbing.
And while there are many unanswered mysteries here, Garland does clear up some of the book’s more vague plot points like the origin of the Shimmer and its effect on living things. Portman gets a rich character to play, her grief, uncertainty, and fear all manifested in her hard, haunted face, but her co-stars don’t have almost enough to do, emotionally speaking. Prior to her venturing into The Shimmer, no one else has made it out alive, with the exception of her husband (played by Oscar Isaac), though when he returned there was something wrong with him, and we later find out this is what motivates Lana to venture into The Shimmer in the first place. He has no recollection of where he’s been or who he is. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Ghostbuster-name-sounding psychologist Dr. Ventress and delivers a more attentive and absorbing performance, though her motives are never explained or explored beyond a single throwaway anecdote cattily shared by a member of the troop to another (no, really). This creates a colorful force field that grows its own unique habitat, which scientists have dubbed “The Shimmer”. Military men go in, and don’t come back. Even if some elements don’t click together or leave you asking questions, “Annihilation” is a beautifully shot feature, which revels in its own beauty and ambition-the out of focus edges in the frame for any sequences in Area X were a very nice touch.
As he showed with his first film, Ex Machina, Garland has an expert sense of how to establish an eerie, enticing world, calibrating dread and allure in just the right measure.
The setting-up toggles back and forth in time for a half-hour before the women finally set out on their expedition. It’s a process that’s constantly in flux, making DNA a sort of shifting sand, as represented in various moments like characters claiming their fingerprints are moving, or seeing that one soldier’s inner organs writhing like snakes. Everyone on the team has a different reason for embarking on such a risky mission.
In this way, the film recalls John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) with rapidly-evolving creatures that adopt the very body parts they consume. “Sharpen up. Annihilation leaves a mark”. If you’re familiar with his work, then you have some idea what you’ll be getting here, but clearly, as he gets older and he gains confidence and control as a director, he’s simply focusing that voice in an increasingly pure way.
Tessa Thompson: “I think this film is more a question than an answer”. The primary issue is the make up of the team itself. When Lena attempts to rush her comatose husband to the emergency room, a shadowy government agency intercepts the ambulance and takes them to a top-secret facility.
“For me, it has to be rooted in the story”.
Soon enough, large mutant creatures of assorted persuasions start emerging from the forest, which itself takes on ever-more freaky and overgrown looks as the women proceed deeper into the Shimmer. Why is Lena allowed to join the team? The film is drastically different from VanderMeer’s book, but it’s also about something that can’t be uttered, and, accordingly, Garland goes silent for the film’s stunning finale. It’s a failure that Annihilation never overcomes. Twelve months later he returns without warning or explanation, but what should be a blissful reunion goes wrong immediately in nearly every way. [.] Annihilation inevitably stumbles on some of the crasser aspects of its survival thriller roots, including the raving maniac who gives into her nerves and threatens to derail the whole ordeal. Portman is fantastic as the grieving, then confused wife. Flashback to her isolation after work, a missing military husband, a meteorite striking a Pacific coast lighthouse. Why doesn’t he remember anything? She goes to find Kane, who has recovered from his near death state. If she can’t beat her enemy with science, she can always use a machine gun. There Lena learns that Kane’s the lone survivor of an expedition to an environmental disaster zone bordered by a surreal-looking, shimmering curtain. Portman fires a lot of bullets, but to be frank, doesn’t realistically sell her “army vet” skills.
“But he knows about it because you know that children just know about Star Wars before they know about the alphabet”, she argued.