“Annihilation,” based on the novel by the same name, is Hollywood’s latest take on science fiction horror. The genre is notorious for attracting over-used CGI, cheap jump scares and incoherent plots. This film successfully avoids these pitfalls and pulls off one of the best horror movies in years.
The plot of “Annihilation” follows Lena (Natalie Portman), a biology professor from Johns Hopkins University, who met her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), during her military service. Her husband, also in the military, goes missing while on a secret military mission exploring an unexplainable phenomenon—an area of land on the coast has become enveloped in a mysterious aura.
This area covered by a strange aura is known as Area X or the Shimmer, named after the shimmering effect it has on the air. The ground zero of this spreading aura is a lighthouse on the coast. Almost the entirety of “Annihilation” is spent exploring this alien space and the rapid changes it’s spurring in the wildlife. Lena ultimately finds herself as part of a crew to explore this spreading region. They aim to discover the secrets of the region and how to prevent its spread.
Director Alex Garland has done a remarkable job translating a unique novel onto the big screen. The novel by Jeff VanderMeer tells Lena’s story through her field journal. The mysteries of the Shimmer are unveiled through individual entries in the book. This gave Garland a lot of room to work with, which he did. The film adaptation gives names and background to the previously unnamed expedition members.
Garland, known for his direction of “Ex Machina,” has set a new standard for how science fiction horror should appear on the big screen. While the story is compelling, the real art behind “Annihilation” is its portrayal of eeriness. From the moment the main characters enter, the Shimmer audience members are met with concern and confusion—but not in a way that disorients viewers beyond enjoyment.
Besides a strong visual appearance, the acting in “Annihilation” is spot on. Natalie Portman does a great job of bringing Lena to life with powerful emotional scenes coupled with intense, fighting scenes. She pulls off both flawlessly. Lena’s transformation throughout the movie is subtle but apparent by its finish. Portman is excellent at making this transition smooth.
Oscar Isaac, while not having too much screen time, plays his character through little snippets—whether it be flashbacks or videos discovered by the exploration team. Watching his character unravel piece by piece is heartbreaking, not only through audience eyes but through the eyes of Lena.
“Annihilation” has great representation on top of an already impressive film. The studio deserves recognition for proceeding with an all-female team to explore the Shimmer. On top of that, there are multiple women of color composing the main group of characters sent into the Shimmer. It’s a shame that in 2018 movies frequently struggle to pass the Bechdel Test, but “Annihilation” passes with flying colors.
Overall, “Annihilation” is an incredible movie for those seeking a genuine science fiction horror movie. The plot is exciting, the visuals are beyond words and conclusion doesn’t drop the ball. It’s difficult to create a movie this eerie, but Garland has done it with his excellent cast.