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Categories: Movie Reviews

Alex Garland’s second feature as director, the striking Annihilation, proves to be as a rare and unusual a beast as featured in the film: a science-fiction film that’s equal parts beautiful and horrifying.

Writer and director Alex Garland, adapting Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name, proves himself in virtually every field as he expands beyond the figurative, and literal, walls of his claustrophobic directorial debut, 2015’ Ex Machina, but also offers the rarest and most sought-after sensation in the film business today: originality.

This isn’t to say that you can’t easily trace the film’s influences back to their points of origin but unlike so many of Garland’s brilliant sci-fi screenplays, which are often turned into brilliant sci-fi films, Annihilation creates the feeling of peering directly into the mind of a director. Which is a hell of a thing when the director is afforded the opportunity by the story to construct almost everything within that world, from flora and fauna to the perception of time itself.

Annihilation is, totally and willfully, surreal. So much of the film revolves around the character’s journey into what they come to accurately reflect on as being akin to the onset of dementia. As Natalie Portman moves with her team of scientists deep into the heart of an unknown area, priorities and motivations begin to blur along with the boundaries between physical and metaphysical concepts. The best thing about the film being that this never at any point takes away from Annihilation’s crowning achievement, which is its production design.

The heavy set-piecey, soundstage, feel to most of the outdoor scenes only serves to add to the deliberately disjointed effect the film has and allows from some truly unusual (not that Tim Burton trying-too-hard-to-be unusual) design and visuals, to say nothing of the film’s captivating use of colour. Not to detract from the film’s core aesthetic, though. Annihilation is thoroughly a horror film and one of the most eery for quite some time.

Thematically, and unlike the wave of 2017 science-fiction films which almost all centred around the theme of creation, Annihilation is about the terrifying prospect of change. Not just entropy but transformation. We are always in a state of flux and what we will become will not be what we are now. Our cells almost constantly dying and being replaced, will what we identify as humanity today even exist tomorrow and can anyone really predict, or understand, what that will be?

But, like with all good horror films, what the terror is built out of is a mastery of the fundamentals of filmmaking. Namely music, cinematography, production design, performance and editing. Each and every one is of a high standard. This isn’t to call the film flawless, far from it, and it’s moderately clear that Garland is often provoking his audience with questions that don’t have answers but the overall tone, and effectively offbeat pacing, is so ultimately absorbing (the film definitely transforms, itself, as it goes along) that it becomes a hypnotic experience.

It’s for this reason that, and I fully understand Garland’s disappointment that the film only received a short theatrical release in America before debuting on Netflix internationally, it’s actually perhaps best enjoyed alone. Cinema is a collective experience, and it’s often unbeatable, but it’s one achieved through a host of factors that are sadly beyond the control of the filmmaker. Annihilation is far from impenetrable but it allows itself to be decoded by the viewer themselves, thus treating them as adults. So you’ll probably only enjoy it if you are one.

Annihilation is available to view now on Netflix.

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a freelance copywriter and lifelong cinephile. For writing enquiries, you can email him at mark@cinemajam.com and you can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

Posted on Mar 13, 2018

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