Sometimes a film comes along that creates such dazzling imagery and is so packed full of mind-bending ideas, that you want to thank the film gods that it exists. Alex Garland's follow up after the stunning Ex Machina is one of those films.
A deep sense of dread and menace permeates the film as it follows biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) as she enters "the Shimmer, "ana ever-flowing translucent bubble that continually grows. Why does she go with a team of women into this forbidding place?
Her husband Sgt. Kane (Oscar Isaac) had been missing for a year before suddenly coming back from "the Shimmer." Others, we learn, have not been so lucky. This is because "the Shimmer" is full of mutated plant and animal life and a whole lot more.
Annihilation could easily stop here with its ideas. Based on a trilogy of books by Jeff VanderMeer, the film could simply be a thrill ride into an alien land. Garland has a lot more on his mind and uses this wonderful premise to explore cancer and the many choices one makes when something starts to take over who you are. The film is unapologetic in its cerebral approach, never dumbing things down but also never losing a sustained suspense. Garland's pacing here is a marvel. The film is never without a great sense of danger even when exploring more heady ideas.
I wouldn't want to spoil any of the wonders or surprises that Lena and the team find in "the Shimmer." Garland has created some incredible imagery. There are dense ideas that have been visualized in striking ways. The film feels akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey in this sense, full of heady ideas, genuine horror and awe, and full of images that will long stay with you after the credits roll.
The ensemble cast are all strong but the film belongs to Portman. Her performance here reminds you of just how little she works and how carefully she chooses her roles. Rob Hardy's cinematography is appropriately trippy and favors sun-spots and light flares. Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow return again as Garland's composers and create an droning, eerie score here that only adds to the general sense of dredd the film cultivates.
The film is so many things, like the mutations it often wonders at. It feels at times romantic, scary, adventurous, thrilling, psychedelic and deeply heartfelt. Fans of the original source material looking for a straight adaptation will be sore about Garland's vision to go someplace else with the story. The film's final act is likely to confuse passive audience members. However it is here that Annihilation truly becomes its own film, unlike many before it. This is a brave, thoughtful and stunningly visualized film. I cannot wait to talk to those who have seen it about what I pulled from it and what they got from it. This is a film I will be thinking about and talking about all year. In 10 or so years, I think it will be in high regards as one of the best films of this decade.