A visceral thriller proving that Ex Machina was not a one hit wonder, Annihilation is a continuation of that commentary to Alex Garland’s universe of unapologetic, contemporary sci-fi machine that kept on spewing unorthodox flares to the world of cinema.
Natalie Portman plays Lena, a cellular biologist and former Army soldier whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) unexpectedly goes home after missing for almost a year since he had entered an expedition to decipher an unexplained anomaly in an area called “the shimmer”. Suspecting that it could be an alien invasion, Lena then joins a league of women in a expedition to find further clues as to what exactly is in that mantle of glittery, electric wave that blankets the middle of the forest.
Since his monumental breakthrough in 2015’s futuristic art film Ex Machina, Garland shows continuity of that universe utterly specific to his tone and atmosphere, as if he conducts his cinematic world in an orchestra full of unison, free from anything wildly pretentious despite how hifalutin its theme is. His assertion to his visually sharp, fibrous style of filmmaking married with his poignant ability to convey a narrative that’s equally rich, merits to a director whose intellect is unstoppable. The film has that rare capacity to combine poetry and science, which never felt contradicting. The film is a timeless embodiment of what an actual science-fiction genre is.
Its production design epitomizes the purpose of the film’s narrative. It’s colorful, glittery, almost as if it’s luring you for something dark and arid amidst that layer of golden afternoon-esque aura. It is equally raw and glossy. Garland created a visual world true to his intentions and imagined reality.
Although the film was not meant to be a vehicle to showcase acting chops, Natalie Portman manages to display strength and resilience needed to carry the film’s strange and ambitious core. Though I have to admit, I was a bit distracted by her Jackie Onassis voice in some parts of the movie. Nevertheless, it takes a talent like Portman’s not to be lost in a sea of confusion, strangeness and ambiguity.
The film does exemplify a strange beauty that qualifies it to be a masterpiece of its own genre. However, oftentimes it’s too strange, it almost feels irrelevant. In a nutshell, it’s as if the film tried so hard to prove something that needn’t to be proved to begin with, which was to overly elaborate a setting of what the future of the human race could be, leaving so many questions with very little answers. Although I understand its thought-provoking intentions, the film lacked an overall passion to satisfy, compensated by its overall passion to impress.
Overall, Annihilation is no Ex Machina, but it isn’t a bad follow-up to Alex Garland’s intellectual world. This movie promotes Garland from just being a rising talent, to simply one of the best of his generation.
Annihilation is now available on Netflix.