“Annihilation” is the most thought-provoking film I have ever seen. I cannot think of the last time that a film made me ponder its themes and plot as much as this one. Some may have found “Inception” to be difficult to follow; if you are in that group, then perhaps this movie is not for you. “Interstellar” may have been open-ended, but after a few minutes it is easy to imagine how the story continues. With “Annihilation,” I had no idea where it was going at any point. Its ambiguity is really where its genius lies.
Cerebral, suspenseful, and chilling – those are the three words that I would use to describe “Annihilation.” It’s cerebral in its writing, that much is certain. It leaves its themes up to interpretation in a way that I thought only Stanley Kubrick could achieve. It’s as suspenseful as any Hitchcock film. I felt constantly on edge throughout the entire runtime. Though there are some grisly images, they only add to the central conflict between the protagonist and antagonist, as well as our own interpretation of what is going on. The soundtrack adds a chilling aspect to the film. It starts off with some warmer chords, but quickly transitions into a much more blaring, synthesized sound that’s loud and distressing. It’s impossible to know simply based on the music what is about to happen. It can give us a false sense of security or a false sense of foreshadowing. “Annihilation” is creepier than any horror film released in recent years, but interestingly towards its conclusion proposes that it really wasn’t meant to be horrifying at all.
The film is visually dazzling. “The Shimmer” is both beautiful and eerie. Inside “Area X” is the perfect combination of The Garden of Eden and a living hell. The CGI is even breathtaking. Nothing in this film will look dated 20 years from now. The mutations of flora and fauna look incredibly realistic. The sound design rivals that of “Blade Runner: 2049.” This all leads me to the point that this film was meant to be seen on a big screen. It saddens me that audiences outside of the U.S. will be watching this on their televisions or computer screens. So much will be missed on a visual basis.
The performances are also something to hail. Natalie Portman gives one of her best on-screen performances. The supporting cast members are all brilliant. Each character has their own reasons for being there, and their motivations intertwine beautifully with how their arcs unfold. The film plays out as a classic mystery, in that we know as little or as much as the protagonist, and are equally as interested in discovery as she is. “Annihilation” is not a run-of-the-mills monster movie, though it does at times have similar elements, particularly in the portrayal of its antagonist. In my mind, this made the unraveling of its antagonist all the more interesting.
The metaphorical aspects succeed whereas in many other movies they fail. The title itself is questioned in its meaning. The ending may at first be alienating, but after a great deal of thought can be satisfying with your own ideas and imagination. There are deeper things than what seems to just be going on the surface. Alex Garland certainly understands how to craft a thrilling science fiction film that can satisfy both science fiction enthusiasts and general moviegoers. It is both intellectual and visceral. Bring a friend, and leave with an intriguing conversation.