by George Wolf
Alex Garland’s work as both a writer (28 Days Later…, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go) and a writer/director (Ex Machina) has shown a visionary talent for molding the other-worldly and the familiar. Annihilation unveils Garland at his most existential, becoming an utterly absorbing sci-fi thriller where each answer begs more questions.
A strange force of nature dubbed “The Shimmer” has enveloped the land near a remote lighthouse, and is spreading. Years of expeditions inside it have yielded only missing persons – including Kane (Oscar Issac). When Kane suddenly returns home and almost immediately falls prey to a life-threatening illness, his wife Lena (Natalie Portman, perfectly nailing a desperate curiosity) is detained for questioning by the military.
Lena, a biology professor with years of Army training, volunteers to join the new, all-female exhibition into “Area X,” hoping to find any shred of information that could save her husband’s life.
Adapting the first novel in Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach Trilogy,” Garland has found a perfect scratch for his psychological itch.
Garland builds the film in wonderful symmetry with the hybrid life forms influenced by The Shimmer. Taking root as a strange mystery, it offers satisfying surprises amid an ambitious narrative flow full of intermittent tension, scares, and blood – and a constant sense of wonder.
Just his second feature as a director, Annihilation proves Ex Machina was no fluke. Garland is pondering similar themes—creation, self-destruction, extinction—on an even deeper level, streamlining the source material into an Earthbound cousin to 2001.
Utilizing wonderfully strategic splashes of color, and a shifting timeline that drops purposeful breadcrumbs, Garland gives us a mystifying new world from the comforts of our own. Annihilation is the work of a top-tier genre filmmaker, and a challenging journey offering many rewards for those with no appetite for spoon feedings.