Subject: Review: Annihilation (2018)
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)
CAPSULE: Alex Garland, who wrote and directed the
excellent EX MACHINA, has co-written and directed
a second film. A strange expanse has turned into
"the Shimmer," a square-miles-wide region where the
laws of physics no longer work. After scores of men
have failed to return from the Shimmer, a team of
five women enters. (Take that, Bechdel Test).
Garland gives the film a tone that may not be really
alien, but is very foreign. A lot of the film is
incomprehensible or requires repeated viewing. I
hope it does well at the box office, but a downbeat
title like ANNIHILATION will be a hard sell to an
audience who may not even be able to spell it.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The Shimmer. What is it? A few square miles on the Eastern
seaboard have become alien territory. It follows none of the
physical world laws we know. Several assaults have been made to
understand the field, but as yet nobody has ever returned. To try
a different approach, the government assembles a team of five women
to take on the suicide mission of entering the Shimmer to attempt
learning its secret. The main character is Lena (played by Natalie
Portman), who had lost her husband to the Shimmer. The main
timeline is the story of the team's visit to the Shimmer. The film
jumps around from that timeline to flashbacks of Lena with her now-
missing husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac). It also jumps forward to
Lena's de-briefing after she is the first and only human ever to
escape the Shimmer.
Like the film STALKER by Andrei Tarkovsky, much of ANNIHILATION
takes place on what might well be abandoned landscape that the
script gives science fictional importance. That might
significantly ease the budget. These are some scenes in which our
team is threatened by what can be considered monsters and they are
created visually believable without letting special effects
dominate the film
My wife pointed out two flaws in the script. It seems unexpected
and a little convenient that in the military there are five
advanced scientists who also happen to have experience with
armaments like assault rifles. I guess we are to assume that the
weapon creates the action hero. Also the government would not send
a team into the Shimmer for days on their first time in. They may
start with a goat on a rope and send the goat in for two minutes;
then pull it out and see if it still lives. Then it might try
three minutes and gradually increase the exposure.
ANNIHILATION is a rarity. Among other unusual things it is a
science fiction film in which an intelligent woman is the main
character. The only other such films that come immediately to mind
are CONTACT and the rare film ADVANTAGEOUS.
This is one of those films that will require six or so viewings
before it starts to make sense. Ironically, though the tempo of
this film is slow--do not look for STAR WARS pacing--there are a
lot of ideas packed into the film. So the viewer is never bored.
It is more complex but still not up to Garland's EX MACHINA.
However, expecting a film of that quality is setting the bar very
high. I rate ANNIHILATION a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
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Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2018 Mark R. Leeper