Monday, February 26, 2018

[Review] Annihilation

Following the excellent future-shock piece Ex Machina, director Alex Garland returns with another heady and provocative sci-fi flick. It's pointedly called Annihilation, and it's a film that constantly confounds and mesmerizes until the very end, and long after that.

Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former soldier. After her husband (Oscar Isaac) is presumed dead on a top-secret mission, Lena is taken to a compound called Area X, where she's tasked with studying a strange and dangerous prism called "The Shimmer", which rests beyond an effervescent wall of plasma that looks like soapy water mixed with gasoline. And things get weird.

The narrative moves at a patient pace, but it keeps us on our toes as we attempt to wrap our heads around what the heck is going on. Commendably, this is a script that presents just enough exposition to cue us into this world, while mysteriously leaving us in the fog as this strange journey unfolds, or should I say -- unravels. Even the look of the film itself is hazy and splashed with lens flares, as if it were a surreal afternoon dream that you've drifted into on a cloudy day. And when our crew enters The Shimmer, this mind-boggling spectacle warps into a truly sublime experience. The Shimmer is crawling with beautifully exotic plantlife and mutated creatures -- some majestic, and some ferocious. It's utopian and dystopian all at once. Okay, it's probably more dystopian than utopian. In fact, sometimes this thing feels like a straight-up monster movie - with its nasty beasts and jolting surprises, as well as the gruesome and grotesque and squirmy (like, really squirmy) visuals.

Portman is great in the leading role, delivering another delirious performance that thrives on emotional baggage and hysteria. She's joined by a great supporting crew too, including the always impressive Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez in a part that's vastly different from "Jane the Virgin", Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok), and Tuva Novotny. There's an interesting dynamic between the team of characters -- what type of comradery or friction occurs when you're abruptly cast together and thrust out into what seems to be a suicide mission?

It's difficult to decipher what everything in Annihilation means, especially toward the ending, which might leave you baffled. It's essentially a big, cinematic WTF? Along the way, the story ruminates on complicated themes of self-destruction, environmental science, cells and DNA, time lapses, extraterrestrials, the choices humans are faced with, and whether or not God makes mistakes (according to Chris Rock's new standup special, he does). It's a lot to grasp, but it's totally worth diving into... the movie, of course. It's probably best to stay away from The Shimmer.

* 8.5/10 *

Be sure to Like Fade to Zach on Facebook!
And Follow me on Twitter: @Fade_to_Zach

1 comment: