ANNIHILATION: Netflix’s Sci-Fi Masterpiece

As soon as I saw Alex Garland’s ANNIHILATION a few months back I knew this would make my Top 20 Films of 2018. A true science fiction movie that delves into our intelligence and makes us think afterwards. A phenomena that is unexplainable, as would be anything we experience that is completely alien to humanity. But I never reviewed it at the time, it just slipped by the wayside. I managed to talk the parents into watching it again on holidays so I could write with a fresh mind and so now here is my review.

ANNIHILATION went through a releasing hell with Paramount Pictures dropping it from international release to Netflix. Paramount released it on screens in the U.S. and China and Netflix released it 17 days later. Why? Because David Ellison, a financier at Paramount, deemed it “too intellectual” and “too complicated” and wanted changes that Producer Scott Rudin refused to give. Thank GOD! It’s about time we had a return to intelligent science fiction that doesn’t come from a comic book.

ANNIHILATION is 115mins long, is rated MA15+, and will require you turn on some grey matter.

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Jennifer jason Leigh, Natlie Portman, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez

BY JASON KING

ANNIHILATION PLOT:

It’s been twelve months since his last covert operation and Kane is still missing in action, presumed dead. With his wife, the successful academic biology professor, Lena, still grieving him, an unprecedented phenomenon in the swamplands of Florida will soon have her following in Kane’s footsteps as a member of a strong all-women team. Many theories try to explain “the shimmer,” a mysterious ever-expanding iridescent membrane which swallows the area; however, none have been able to yield facts. What kind of biological transmutations lurk behind this bright and colourful kaleidoscope of horrors? What happened to Kane and what awaits the fresh-meat female team?

It should be noted ANNIHILATION is based on the first book from Jeff VanderMeer’s best-selling Southern Reach Trilogy. The ending of the first book has been largely altered for the movie as this was made to be a standalone film with no sequels forthcoming.

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Walking into The Shimmer

FINALLY, SCIENCE FICTION THAT WILL RESONATE IN OUR EMPTY SKULLS FOR A LONG TIME:

I can understand why this film is disliked by quite a lot of people. ANNIHILATION is a film with elements of ALIENS, 2001, SOLARIS, CUBE and other science-fiction blockbusters but it is no blockbuster. It is more in-line with Garland’s EX MACHINA than ALIENS. It is a melancholic paced movie that at times can crawl forward oblivious as to where it is, but this also fits in perfectly with the story.

The characters are losing time and memory and genes, it makes sense in the visual delivery to make the audience feel the same. My stepfather pointed out the pacing about an hour in and on second viewing it was much more noticable. The parents’ TV is quite a bit smaller than mine and the first viewing I was so taken aback with the stunning visuals and a powerfully enchanting score from Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, both of whom worked on EX MACHINA and endless other projects.

The slow build of the movie is worth the payout at the end. It will disappoint some as it is not a large explosive ending. ANNIHILATION is an intelligent ending that is so far out there I imagine it is closer to what an actual alien encounter would be. It leaves more questions than answers. It is helpless to expect the usual and expected and the powerful ending is what makes this movie for me, both visually and psychologically. If you don’t understand it all the better.

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Natalie Portman

EXCEPTIONAL GIRL POWER:

The casting is exceptional. Natalie Portman should never have said she would “never do a horror movie.” She bit that bullet with BLACK SWAN and wanted desperately to work with Garland so she jumped at ANNIHILATION. Her portrayal as an intelligent scientist is expected. She has always had that upper-class smart accent and mannerism, but it’s her as also a tough military woman that blew my mind. The look on her face when she is shooting an automatic weapon is one of determination and power. I could fully see her saving thousands in a war zone.

Oscar Isaac is wonderful in whatever he does but his important role takes a backseat to the female cast. It was mostly about girl power for this one.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is fast becoming one of the greats and her delivery is as unusual and intriguing as you would expect. I never even recognised Tessa Thompson with the big glasses and bushier hair. I always picture her CREED character when I think of her. Her character was a little lost and mopey but it rounded out the psychological reactions you would expect from a group in this situation. Tuva Novotny was good as Cass Sheppard but I would have liked more development from her character. Gina Rodriguez was very similar in delivery as Thompson and the two kind of cancelled each other out in the shadow of Portman and Leigh.

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Natalie Portman and Tuva Novotny

IN CONCLUSION:

ANNIHILATION is a science fiction masterpiece. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and has some truly horrifying scenes, superb visuals and an arresting soundtrack. But best of all this movie will keep you thinking long after the credits roll.

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.