The film Annihilation, directed by Alex Garland and based on the book of the same name by Jeff Vandermeer, is a science fiction film that follows the discovery and journey into an alien-like biosphere that is referred to as “the Shimmer,” an area around a lighthouse that an extraterrestrial entity crashed into and continues to spread.
The film begins with Lena (Natalie Portman) being interrogated about what had happened previously in the Shimmer, and she seems to be the sole survivor of a mission to research it. The film then flashes back to her old life, where she is a brilliant biology professor at Johns Hopkins University. It is revealed that she had been married, but her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) is believed to be killed at war, and Lena has not been able to let go of the loss.
Kane returns unexpectedly, but is noticeably different from the husband that she knew, and unable to give any information about his whereabouts for the previous year. Almost immediately, he suffers from a brain hemorrhage, and is rushed to the hospital. As the ambulance is en route, the vehicle is stopped by a convoy of police cars to transport the patient to Area X, a research facility that is based near the Shimmer attempting to research it. While there, Lena, with her background in biology, is tasked with joining a crew of fellow well-educated and capable women, led by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to enter the area and study it.
Once they embark on their journey, they discover that the Shimmer is full of creatures that have been changed from their previous iterations, including oversized vicious alligators, mutated wolf-bear hybrids, and all kinds of different vegetation that is different from the outside world. While inside, the group discovers that the biosphere has an effect on the people inside it, both mental and physical. While exploring, they find clues about what happened to the people who preceded them in the area, with some shocking and intriguing results. With the obvious physical changes, and the growing distrust between the people of the expedition, the group begins to fear the ever-changing ecosystem as well as the people who are there to protect them.
The film is entertaining from beginning to end, and keeps the suspense building throughout. It does get a little convoluted with some plot lines that are not really tied up, but it does not bog down the movie. The flashback scenes give the characters some depth and background, but some of them feel a little forced. The film makes the science understandable to the layman, and Portman plays her role in a very believable way.
The strong supporting cast, made up almost entirely of females, do a great job of showing how different personalities can positively and negatively affect a group of people with a common goal. Leigh’s Ventress is a strong character who seems to have an almost Ahab-like obsession with finding the answers that she wants from the Shimmer. Gina Rodriguez as Anya Thorensen, Tuva Novotny as Cass Sheppard, and Tessa Thompson as Josie Radek, bring much energy and thought to the movie as specialists in fields to study the entity. Oscar Isaac’s Kane is an interesting character, and the audience is left guessing how much of him was left in the Shimmer.
Annihilation has many elements of science fiction that are common, but it never feels like a recycling of a concept. Asking the question “If extraterrestrial life exists, what are their goals and how would it affect us?” is the general theme through the movie, and the search for the answer is a cool ride. It elicits the feelings of films like Prometheus, Sphere, The Thing, and E.T, but never really lives up to the staying power of those movies. Overall, Annihilation is an interesting watch, and is worth sitting through until the end, but it will not be one that will be talked about for years to come.