Alex Garland, who wrote and directed the excellent ‘Ex Machina’, has co-written and directed a second film, ‘Annihilation’ (based on the excellent 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer). A strange expanse has turned into ‘the Shimmer’, a square-mile-wide region where the laws of physics no longer work. After scores of men have failed to return from the Shimmer, a team of five women enters.
Take that, Bechdel Test. Garland gives the film a tone that may not be really alien, but is very foreign. A lot of the film is incomprehensible or requires repeated viewing. I hope it does well at the box office, but a downbeat title like ‘Annihilation’ will be a hard sell to an audience who may not even be able to spell it.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10.
The Shimmer. What is it? A few square miles on the Eastern seaboard have become alien territory. It follows none of the physical world laws we know. Several assaults have been made to understand the field, but as yet nobody has ever returned. To try a different approach, the government assembles a team of five women to take on the suicide mission of entering the Shimmer to attempt learning its secret. The main character is Lena (played by Natalie Portman), who had lost her husband to the Shimmer.
The main timeline is the story of the team’s visit to the Shimmer. The film jumps around from that timeline to flashbacks of Lena with her now missing husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac). It also jumps forward to Lena’s de-briefing after she is the first and only human ever to escape the Shimmer.
Like the film ‘Stalker’ by Andrei Tarkovsky, much of ‘Annihilation’ takes place on what might well be abandoned landscape that the script gives science fictional importance. That might significantly ease the budget. These are some scenes in which our team is threatened by what can be considered monsters and they are created visually believable without letting special effects dominate the film
My wife pointed out two flaws in the script. It seems unexpected and a little convenient that in the military there are five advanced scientists who also happen to have experience with armaments like assault rifles. I guess we are to assume that the weapon creates the action hero. Also the government would not send a team into the Shimmer for days on their first time in.
They may start with a goat on a rope and send the goat in for two minutes; then pull it out and see if it still lives. Then it might try three minutes and gradually increase the exposure.
‘Annihilation’is a rarity. Among other unusual things it is a Science Fiction film in which an intelligent woman is the main character. The only other such films that come immediately to mind are ‘Contact’ and the rare film ‘Advantageous’.
This is one of those films that will require six or so viewings before it starts to make sense. Ironically, though the tempo of this film is slow, do not look for ‘Star Wars’ pacing as there are a lot of ideas packed into the film. So the viewer is never bored. It is more complex but still not up to Garland’s ‘Ex Machina’. However, expecting a film of that quality is setting the bar very high.
I rate ‘Annihilation’ a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Mark R. Leeper
© Mark R. Leeper 2018.