From the big screen to the small screen and most places in between, the powers that be decided that Annihilation was too cerebral and intelligent for the average moviegoer and lobbed it off on Netflix and, given that the average movie goer made Michael Bay and Adam Sandler millionaires, that was probably a safe bet.
But is Annihilation good?
Make no mistake, this is very cerebral movie-making so much so that I am actually writing this review a couple of days after I saw the movie to let its themes and plot sink in. It is going to alienate a lot of people, not because it’s a high-concept science fiction movie, but because it was marketed as something that it wasn’t… a monster movie. It’s not a monster movie even though it does have an occasional monster guest star… this is, more than anything, a movie about body horror and self-destruction.
Natalie Portman has given up one creepy Star Wars cast member for another as a biologist married to Oscar Issac, a soldier who is called away to a secret mission and disappears for a whole year so, you can imagine Portman’s surprise when he suddenly shows up in her house with a fragmented memory and multiple organ failures. The two of them are whisked away to the source of all things terrible: Florida, where a strange glowing wall called The Shimmer has appeared and is slowly growing. It turns out that Issac is the only survivor to have gone into the shimmer and emerged and so, Portman goes in with a new team to uncover the mystery of the shimmer and save her husband.
There are other things going on that I don’t really want to spoil here, but that’s the basic gist. Everyone on the team that is sent in is not only female, but also self-destructive in a way including one member who is a recovering addict, one who is into self-harm, one who has lost herself after the death of her daughter… it goes on and on and, inside the Shimmer, it is no different as the building blocks of life, DNA, are also on a path of self-destruction and annihilation… oh, so that’s why they called this movie that!
As I said, there are monsters… two of them, but I will say that one of the two is one of the most disturbing and scary monsters I’ve seen committed to film in a very long time. I won’t ruin it, but it is.
Ultimately, the key to enjoying this movie is to forget the marketing and see it as a movie about people destroying themselves and their lives. Everyone fits that profile and, given what ends up happening at the end, it’s sadly appropriate that the one person who survives is the one person who wants to right things in the life she is selfishly messing up.
Personally, I think it’s great that cognitive high-concept science fiction like this gets made at all. It’s not aimed for a wide audience and that’s always a risk. This movie will peeve people off because it doesn’t spoon-feed reason or rhyme and, at the risk of sounding like a pretentious douchpickle, this is a movie that challenges you to think about what it’s presenting. A lot of audience members don’t like doing that and that’s okay… just be warned, this movie isn’t for you.
This movie isn’t perfect, either, as I have serious problems with some of the dialogue and editing. There were moments, particularly in the few actions scenes, where it was hard to keep up with what as happening and, a few times in conversations, characters would deliver dialogue and then say an extra superfluous line to simplify what was just said as if it didn’t trust the audience to keep up. It was strange to see condescension that heavy in a movie steeped in intellectualism.
It’s shot beautifully, though. Inside the shimmer, it seems so iridescent and dreamlike, with sunbeams split into rainbows and colors popping off the screen. Wonderful cinematography there.
This will be a divisive booger. Some will love it for its intelligence, others will hate it for the same reason. I think it’s good, I enjoyed watching it, but the flaws are annoying and marred an otherwise high concept science fiction drama needlessly. Still, if you don’t mind mentally duking it out with a much better than average movie, step into the shimmer and try to keep your tattoos in one place.
Wait… tattoos aren’t part of our DNA.
WHAT THE HECK, MOVIE?