Writer and director Alex Garland has proved he knows how to make a good Sci-Fi. Primarily known for his writing, Garland took a shot at directing his first film, Ex Machina, in 2014. With its huge success, he chose to direct his next precious baby, Annihilation. The short form of what’s in store for you is Arrival meets Alien meets Prometheus. You’ll find a lot of crossover in films…”wait where have I seen this before?!” Borrowing isn’t a bad thing – think of it instead as a sounding board to new, bigger and better ideas. Its key similarity to Arrival is the overall plot, and comparable to Alien in the developing revelations, and aesthetically like Prometheus in that it’s next level visually impressive.
The majority of Garland’s films fall into the Sci-Fi genre. His scripts have been unique since Day 1…The Beach, a classic Leo DiCaprio film. Annihilation is no different – a strange, unfamiliar region materializes on Earth and appears to be spreading. A group of female scientists volunteer to head into “the shimmer” in the hopes of finding out what lies within. The expedition is no walk in the park. Shocker! The twists and turns will cause spikes of adrenaline, not always in welcomed ways so expect to cover your eyes. Be warned: this ain’t for the faint of heart. The writing takes unusual turns, developing into an incredibly complex story that’ll have you scratching your head for days.
Directing your own script, thus knowing the story inside and out gives Garland the freedom to bring his vision to life exactly how he originally intended it to be. From the start he sets the tone with dark frames and creepy POVs of the characters, sometimes up close and personal, to instigate an uneasy feeling. Mission accomplished dude. The feeling was palpable in the theater – everyone on edge, shakin in our boots (seriously winter, times up). He’ll have you questioning where we’re headed next, all the while teasing bits and pieces of the future where the questions are answered, but never shows enough to make it predictable. This tactic will have you guessing up until the very end. Once their mission begins, those dark frames transition into a gorgeous, vibrant, almost Avatar like setting. He juxtaposed the peculiar and evil personality traits of the women in contrast to the deceptively gorgeous environment within. The stark difference between the outside and the inside only further adds to the fear of what’s to come.
Garland worked with a lot of the same experts from Ex Machina, seeming to be a well-oiled team. Cinematographer Rob Hardy’s camera movements are steady, letting you observe and digest the surroundings and get to know the characters. Music composers are largely to blame for our tense emotions during creepy and eerie films. Just as they did in Ex Machina, music composers Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow did exactly that.
Although not a lead, Garland also cast a familiar face, Oscar Isaac, from you guessed it, Ex Machina. Annoyed yet of hearing that name? If you haven’t seen it, I’m sure you’re curious now, huh? Isaac’s creepy facial expressions and mannerisms hinted from the first second that the film was going headed in a sinister direction real quick. Lead actress, Natalie Portman who clearly knows the true meaning of a disturbing role after winning an Oscar in 2011 for Black Swan only further demonstrated her depth as a phenomenal actor. She led the pack of her badass girl scouts comprised of Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) and Tessa Thompson (Creed). These ladies were all chilling in their own right, embodying their characters both physically and mentally to no end. Here we see a film led by women, but not just any women, but SCIENTISTS. Look at that – we’re being shown as smart too. Wow look at you Hollywood!
Bottom line: If you’re not down to feel anxious and on edge, stay away. If you can stomach it, it’s worth it, as Annihilation has it all: thought provoking story, striking graphics, and one kickass cast. Here’s the only caveat – you’re highly likely to have some graphic, bizarre and perhaps even disturbing dreams, but it’s worth a sleepless night.