Based on Jeff VanderMeer's best-selling Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation is about a team of scientists who investigate this mysterious and deadly shimmer which has already claimed numerous lives. Each member of the team has nothing to live for, hence the suicidal mission into the Shimmer, but Lena (Natalie Portman) enters the Shimmer with the purpose of finding out what happened to her husband (Oscar Isaac).
Netflix’s gluttonous producing/releasing of major sc-fi films will perhaps reach its peak with Annihilation in terms of both anticipation and quality. This is despite the fact the film was never scheduled to appear on the streaming service until Paramount got cold feet and felt the film was too intellectually challenging to be released in theatres, thus the film release was cancelled theatrically for all countries but USA and China.
This naturally was a disappointment for people eagerly anticipating the film and the director, Alex Garland, who felt his film was best seen on the biggest screen with a great sound system accompanying it. Though after watching the film it’s hard to see where Paramount are wrong to do what they did as Annihilation will most likely have a good opening weekend then see a significant drop for the following weekends. Why? Because we’ve seen it all before for similar films deemed to demanding for audiences. Paramount can undoubtedly be criticised for lack of bravery or daring, but financially it was perhaps the best move.
Now I don’t want to sound pretentious or snobbish but mainstream audiences do tend to reject overly ambiguous films where much emphasis is placed on the audience to figure stuff out for themselves rather than the filmmaker spooning feeding you every bit of information. Alex Garland’s film is jampacked with ideas about humanity attraction to self-destruction and answers very little, inviting the audience to think about what the film means to them. This is so much the case that the final 30 minutes more closely reasonable 2001: A Space Odyssey than its action-horror tags placed upon it.
The film is incredible in way it builds up the power, intrigue and mystery of this strange shimmer. It has the power to be outstandingly beautiful and haunting as well as terrifying and deadly barely a few seconds later. Inside The Shimmer, stunning flowers blossom creating an impression that one could easily have misconceptions about this deadly world, but they are soon brought back to earth following an encounter with a beast that seems to mimic the screams of recently deceased explorer.
Performances are very good with Natalie Portman leading the charge with a powerful leading performance. The all-female cast is worthy of note and certainly proves that films with women in the main roles don’t tend to bother people if the filmmakers don’t think they are making the biggest contribution to the rights of women since the suffragette movement got women the vote. Annihilation doesn’t make a big deal out of the gender of the main characters, the film kind of shrugs “they’re women” and moves on.
It’s certainly not for everyone as its ambiguity will alienate a large percentage of the audience, which is precisely why Paramount didn’t see fit to give the film a theatrical release. Still for anyone wanting a Science Fiction film that doesn’t blatantly spell out every little detail then it’s the film for you.