Breanna Brink, Staff Writer
“Annihilation” is an experience about self-destructing beauty which captures the thin line between complex glory and gruesome horror. Like with any movie that’s primarily focused on emphasizing subtle visuals, character interactions, and scientific dialogue, it runs the risk of creating something that polarizes audiences. “Annihilation” is likely to be that film, especially with the way it ends. However, before making any quick judgments about the films potentially pretentious mindset, I can only recommend witnessing it for yourself. The movie will be free on Netflix, March 12, due to a strange production choice by Paramount, much to director Alex Garland’s dismay.
Never has a film made the prospect of aliens so beautifully horrific. The world is set up with a powerful cast of primarily female actors, each one carrying a different kind of baggage, willing to enter Area X’s bubble of mystery, codenamed, “the shimmer.” Within the dome, expedition 12 begins a journey through a mutating national park in Florida. They encounter altered wildlife, foliage that defies the laws of nature, and find evidence of past expeditions that is disturbing beyond belief. This film toils with the ideas of lost time and mental instability, while trapping you in a beautiful wasteland of rapid evolution. The film is not only visually engaging, if not violating, but also an audible experience to behold. Autostradle author Kayla Upadhyaya said, “The movie itself goes through various mutations. Gentle acoustic music scores the first stretch, sounding more like the soundtrack for a road trip scene in an indie rom-com than for a sci-fi horror movie. In the movie’s final act, the music strikingly shifts to a haunting original score, the slicing synths as unshakeable as some of the movie’s bloodiest scenes. What starts as a fairly straightforward sci-fi horror hybrid gradually becomes something much weirder.”
Natalie Portman produces some eerie seriousness as her character, Lena, a biologist and former soldier who enters the shimmer to help her husband (played by Oscar Isaac), simply stating “I owed him” as her reason, which the film later explains in a carefully woven series of brief, disheartening flashbacks. Leading her and three others is Dr. Ventress (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), a psychologist and strangely stony woman, whose one drive is to reach the shimmer’s origin. Gina Rodriguez plays Anya Thorensen, a soft butch paramedic who is a strong and careful woman. Tessa Thompson, portrays young Josie Radek, a physicist and pacifistic genius. Cass Sheppard, a surveyor and geologist, one of the most sympathetic characters of the entire expedition, is played by Tiva Novotny. This impressive cast of women take charge, tackle social struggles of mental illness and slipping sanity, and face disturbing occurrences within the shimmer. This includes one of the most horrific scenes of cinema I have been forced to witness in ages. There is no makeup, there is no padding, giving the women in this film a remarkable position.
This film is the original creative work of Jeff VanderMeer, the author of the “Southern Reach Trilogy.” At the conception of the film “Annihilation,” only the first book existed, which caused some casting discrepancies later on, as actors and novel characters races briefly clash. Though the director and author had no trouble with this, some fans were quite offended. This was not the only struggle of the films pre-production. The novel and movie differ to a serious degree, and should be taken as near separate entities. Depressingly enough, this film was also considered “too intelligent” when screened with test audiences, as compared to another “Transformers” film…clearly Hollywood needs to rethink its priorities. This statement is somewhat offensive, when one looks at the kind of movies we are presented with and realizes those are what Hollywood thinks engages us. “Annihilation” is a film about prompting conversation, and tackles the very fabric of our sanity. Slashfilms critic Chris Evangelista said “With ‘Annihilation,’ Ex Machina director Alex Garland has crafted a weird, challenging, and disturbing sci-fi horror film that will repel some and amaze others. This is the type of strange, hypnotic work that film fans obsess over. Don’t be surprised if people are studying and talking about this film in years to come.”
If you happen to catch “Annihilation” in theaters before Netflix gets its hands on it, you will be greeted with a sumptuous world of creative cruelty–a female cast that upholds a perfect level of shock and awe, a complex ending that will leave you searching the internet for answers, and perhaps drive you to a great book trilogy.