Several months ago a biologist’s husband went on a top secret mission. He suddenly returns, only to fall deathly ill; then, both of them are taken in by the military. The biologist learns her husband was investigating an environmental disaster zone, and no one is sure how he got out. She volunteers, along with four other women, to be the next team to enter what is known as the “Shimmer.” Once inside, they realize the very laws of nature are being rewritten.
Alex Garland (Ex Machina, 28 Days Later) directed this film and wrote the screenplay based on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel. This is only the second film directed by Garland, but it is clear that he is the next great filmmaker. The plot of this film stands out for several reasons. One is that the film follows a group of five strong, intelligent women. The team consists of a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a physicist, and a paramedic. Not only are these women physically strong, but they are some of the best in their field. It is great to see this added to the list of recent films focusing on female role models. Another aspect of this film that makes it unique is all the strange and beautiful horrors the team encounters once they enter the Shimmer. Everything we know as natural is altered within the Shimmer, and it results in insane hybrids that shouldn’t be scientifically possible. Some of these hybrids are hypnotically beautiful, others are monstrous and deadly. Finally, the alien threat that caused the Shimmer is another aspect that makes this film stand out. The reason for the alien arrival, and the resulting events, is something rarely seen in sci-fi films. I won’t get too specific, because this is a film you have to see to believe.
While this film is clearly a huge cinematic achievement, it is also not for every viewer. Some of the more abstract scientific themes of the film may not appeal to all audiences. However, this alone shouldn’t ruin the film for viewers. Even if the concepts are a bit complex, it is still a thrilling, often terrifying, and sometimes beautiful film. The excitement alone will hold the attention of most audiences. The other drawback, to certain viewers, will likely be the ending. The film leaves certain questions unanswered, allowing the audience to make their own conclusions. I enjoyed both the strange science of the film and the way Garland chose to end the film, but there will be many people who will not feel this way.
The entire cast is absolutely superb in this film. While each member of the expedition team has stand out moments, there are two who stand out to me as having the strongest performances. Natalie Portman (Black Swan, Jackie) takes over the leading role as biologist and soldier Lena. Portman has always been a talented actress. She brings something a bit different to this performance because not only is her character brilliant, but she was also a soldier. It makes her character uniquely suited for this expedition, and Portman portrays a soldier-like strength that I haven’t seen from her before. Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok, Creed) also shines as the physicist, Josie. Josie is the least mentally stable of the group, and likely should never have been allowed to join the team. Thompson stands out in this role because she gives one of the most unexpected performances, and she reacts to being inside the Shimmer in a very interesting way. It was difficult to pick only two performances, but I would imagine every viewer will have different performances that stand out to them.
This is one of the most visually fantastic films of the year – if not the past several years. The things that happen inside the Shimmer, created in the mind of author VanderMeer, are so bizarre and original. Bringing this to the screen takes an equal amount of imagination and some brilliant CGI. Inside the Shimmer all species, even across different kingdoms, combine to create horrifying hybrids that are often as deadly as they are stunning. CGI is the only way to properly achieve these hybrids, and the work done in this film is positively spectacular. This film is an example of the right way to utilize CGI.
Annihilation is a visionary film that pushes the boundaries of the human imagination. Garland has yet again proven that he is not only a talented screenwriter, but an even more talented director. His talents are perfectly complemented by an extraordinarily talented cast. On top of everything, this film is filled to the brim with the most imaginative imagery, all of it perfectly executed through CGI. While some of the themes will polarize audiences, it is clear that this film is a near-perfect cinematic gem.
OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10