Annihilation – Movie Review – A cerebral Sci-Fi masterpiece.

At last, I was finally able to watch Alex Garland’s Annihilation. If you were unaware this film was released theatrically almost three weeks ago in America, but unfortunately wasn’t released in the same manner across the rest of the world. Everyone outside of America had to wait for it to premiere on Netflix on March 12th. I purposely avoided the trailers, but had been highly anticipating the film due to the concept and the talent involved.

This film follows a biologist named Lena (Natalie Portman) who along with a psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a paramedic (Gina Rodriguez), a geologist (Tuva Novotny) and a physicist (Tessa Thompson) venture on an expedition into the environmental disaster zone, known as The Shimmer. They enter The Shimmer with the aim of learning more about this mysterious area, that was affected by an object from outer space colliding with it.

Simply put, Annihilation is phenomenal. This is science fiction at it’s absolute best, and I already believe this film is an instant classic. Alex Garland’s screenplay is ripe with cerebral themes and thought provoking intrigue. From the very beginning it grasped my attention and it never let go until the credits began to roll. This film is a hypnotic experience, one I wish I had the pleasure of experiencing on a cinema screen. It’s surreal in the best of ways, and at times evokes the feeling of a psychedelic mind trip, due to The Shimmer being so wonderfully realised in the script but also visually, as if it were a character itself. It’s very hard to highlight many of the aspects that make this screenplay so impressive, because I don’t want to spoil any of the ideas and themes the film will toss at you to linger on your mind.

This film is led by an impressively diverse female cast, and I strongly admire the fact that the film itself never unnecessarily draws attention to the female cast. All of them are interesting characters in their own right and that’s only helped by the memorable performances across the board. Natalie Portman carries this lead performance with a mixture of nuance and vulnerability. She is by no means a perfect individual and that helps make Natalie’s performance all the more compelling, as we see Lena struggle to get to grips with the intellectual ramifications of what they are all experiencing in The Shimmer. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Dr. Ventress is another interestingly written character who is motivated by her own personal intrigue and desire for answers. I thought Jennifer was great, it would’ve been easy for that character to be overplayed, but the subtlety of her performance kept Dr. Ventress grounded. Gina Rodriquez’s Anya is someone who finds it increasingly difficult to keep her paranoia at bay, as things become more and more strange in The Shimmer. Gina get’s a particular scene to really flex her acting skills and maintain a commanding screen presence, and that scene is among the best and most memorable of the film. Tessa Thompson’s Josie brings a unique dynamic to the group as she is the one who often uses her scientific knowledge, to identify logical explanations for the bizarre occurrences. I haven’t seen Tessa in a role like this before and she proved herself to be more than capable.

Alex Garland’s direction is masterful, he manages to maintain the increase of intrigue from beginning to end, whilst still keep the focus on the characters and how they are reacting to being in this new environment. His attention to detail when directing the actors is what helps elevate the overall film to a grander level. Dispensable characters would’ve really impacted the viewers experience on this journey, I’m very glad Garland recognised this and was aware that we needed three dimensional characters at the core of this narrative. There’s a handful of suspenseful moments where Garland showcases that he is talented when it comes to constructing scenes of horror. I don’t typically like jump scares because they are usually used in a very lazy manner, but the few that occur in this film caught me by surprise and were very effective at jolting myself from a state of calm, into a state of sudden suspense. He also directs scenes of body horror that have lingered in my mind, those scenes are so effective because Garland never goes overboard with what he’s showing the viewer. He shows just enough to achieve the feeling and reaction he’s going for and then he pulls back. There’s an animal that features in this film that is the stuff of nightmares. What Garland does with this animal will stick with me for a very long time. I found the entire sequence he built around this animal to be very disturbing on multiple levels. It was frightening, yet utterly fantastic.

Rob Hardy’s cinematography is immaculate. It’s a beautifully shot film, that is lit incredibly well and some of the images he creates within the frame are not only memorable, but they also feel like they’ll stand next to other examples of iconic imagery in the science fiction genre. Major credit has to be given to the visual effects artists, because it’s their work that makes The Shimmer so visually arresting to explore. The visuals are very surreal and unique, that then gets dialled up to eleven in the final act where the use of piercingly bright lights and psychedelic visuals, truly create something I have never seen before. The visuals and musical score had me so transfixed on the screen that I actually felt hypnotised.

Speaking of the musical score it’s rather subtle. I could certainly feel the influence of it through out the film but it never particularly stood out to me. This could be a positive or a negative thing, but I lean more towards positive because I think I wasn’t paying too much attention to it because I was already so immersed. Then the third act came along. In the third act the musical score transforms into a more striking composition that felt completely transcendent. The score perfectly complements the images on screen and I’ve already downloaded it to my phone so I can listen to it even more.

As for negatives, I only have one. The structure of the narrative at times cuts back to prior events so we can receive further development for Lena. For the most part this works well, except for her interactions with a particular character named Daniel (David Gyasi) who is only shown during these scenes. I understand the purpose for Daniel’s inclusion within the film, but I don’t think the scenes involving Lena and Daniel organically fit within this films narrative structure.

Overall Annihilation is a phenomenal film. It’s thought provoking, surreal, hypnotic, frightening and so much more. Alex Garland’s script is masterful, as was his direction. The cinematography and visuals were immaculate and memorable. The performances were superbly layered across the entire cast. This is a slow moving cerebral science fiction masterpiece, that I feel will instantly become a genre classic.


(5 Stars out of 5)


Annihilation – Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriquez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Issac.

Directed by Alex Garland.

Now Streaming on Netflix.

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