‘Annihilation’ Review: Alex Garland Delivers The Best Sci-fi Film Since Arrival

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source: Paramount Pictures

With plenty of questions on its mind, Annihilation offers a mind-bending trip into The Shimmer

After catching my attention with Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s follow up was much anticipated. His stylistic and philosophically eerie sci-fi film was one of the year’s best. However, 2016’s Arrival had eclipse Garland’s status as one of the best sci-fi directors working today. With Annihilation, everything that was great with Ex Machina is back, and Garland has created another sci-fi masterpiece.

Lena (Natalie Portman) hasn’t been the same since her husband went missing a year ago. But when he mysteriously arrives home, she is determined to explore precisely what took her husband away for a year. With the help of 3 scientists and one psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Lena embarks on what may be her final trip.

Annihilation takes a risk in populating its film with a female cast. Sci-fi has always been a male-dominated genre. However, with a newly sparked interest in minority characters (thanks to Wonder Woman and Black Panther), Natalie Portman’s Lena fits right in. Her character’s conflicted and confused state over her husband’s sudden disappearance makes her intriguing from the start. But the film doesn’t stop there as it continues to build a well-rounded and broken character with her own problems. Portman gives her best performance since Black Swan and offers Lena a certain self-destruction about her character.

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Annihilation’s female characters are some of the best in sci-fi – source: Paramount Pictures

Destruction versus change is a huge part of Annihilation‘s message. Its central characters are all in bad places in their lives which make them the perfect candidates for this seeming suicide mission. Their destructive nature not only give them a reason to participate but it mirrors everyone’s self-destructive nature. Our willingness to ignore consequences and continue our destructive ways are perfectly captured in the films beautiful and mysterious location: The Shimmer.

If you had any doubt, Annihilation is just plain gorgeous even more than Ex Machina. Garland finds the perfect blend of CGI and practical effects which make it all the more beautiful. The gasoline-like rainbow effect of The Shimmer create some pretty shots. But it’s inside that The Shimmer is really brought to life with a beautiful set design that feels surreal. However, there’s also darker aspects of this otherworldly place. What comes to mind is a CGI genetically mutated creature that offers Annihilation‘s most terrifying scene and one of the best monster movie scenes ever. It speaks to Garland’s perfect balance of CGI and practical that often call back to films such as Alien and Predator.

And no doubt, Garland has been watching these two films before making Annihilation. There’s plenty of references to Alien, Predator and even Arrival. However, the questions that Garland asks are original and are quite timely. As humans, we find comfort in the familiar, but when it’s stripped away, fear takes over even if that change is for the better.

Annihilation has no doubt earned its place among the sci-fi bests. Its heavy philosophical nature will not cater for the mainstream audience, but for people who love intelligent and thinking films, this is one of the best. It pays homage to older and newer sci-fi films while bringing genetic imagery and never before tackled existential questions. Garland had already shown what he was capable of doing with Ex Machina but Annihilation proves he’s no one-hit wonder.

Annihilation is now playing in theatres.  

GRADE: A

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