By Ceara Kelly, Contributor
[Paramount Pictures, 2018]
There is no doubt that Annihilation will hold up as one of the most beautiful and disturbing movies of the year. The haunting visuals of the Shimmer are unlike anything seen in previous horrors, thrillers or sci-fi movies, with phenomenal acting only making it more convincing. There is no way to describe it other than eerie.
Annihilation is based on the first novel of the Southern Reach trilogy, which follows a group of female scientists as they explore an unknown world beyond an anomaly called “The Shimmer”, despite all previous teams disappearing after a loss of communication. It was wonderfully refreshing to see a sci-fi thriller lead by women, especially when the group was so diverse. Out of the main cast, half were non-white and five were women. The other speaking roles were also non-white men. Annihilation looks like it’s going to be another in the string of successful movies proving diversity pays off.
On top of that, it manages to break out of the formulaic plot most modern-day thrillers have. While most films nowadays rarely leave you with a lasting sense of unease, Annihilation manages not only leave you thinking, but legitimately terrified as well. There were multiple scenes in the Shimmer where the theater as a whole recoiled in disgust or fear, thanks to the film’s superb special effects. The perfect blend of external and internal threats leaves the audience unsure if they can trust anything they see on screen. What may seem like a continuity error at first glance could easily be just another trick of the Shimmer, as it continues to appear in scenes from the multiple timelines.
The film also has some of the most creative visuals in years. The constant strange blend of hybrids of different animals and plants (sometimes even both) only add to the unease. The most horrifying creature could be in the most gorgeous scenery and vice versa, as all of it manages to be linked to death and the constant theme of self-destruction.
Thankfully, Annihilation had a spectacular cast to back up its complex theme. The chemistry between all the actors made the interactions genuine and their fears became yours. Watching their descent into madness while the world around them lost all sense of logic was believable and left the viewer with a growing sense of unease.
However, the film is not without its flaws. Despite having a strong plot with a natural pace, there’s often shoehorned-in flashbacks and sex scenes that kill the mood and do nothing for the story besides make Natalie Portman’s character seem like a hypocrite. On top of that, there is a debate on whether or not Annihilation is guilty of whitewashing. In later books of the trilogy, it’s revealed Portman’s character is of East Asian descent, and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character is half Native American. The writer and director, Alex Garland, insists he had finished writing the adaption before the second book was even out, and never read the sequels. The film is still more diverse than the majority of Hollywood productions, but Garland clearly spoke to the author and knew of the future novels based on certain plot points of the film. In the end, it’s a grey area that viewers may want to be aware of.
Flaws aside, Annihilation is sure to be a success, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see it nominated for at least its effects come next awards season. A must see for any sci-fi fans, but maybe don’t eat beforehand if you’re squeamish.
Watch the trailer here: