Nothing particularly formal about this review. I’m gonna dig right in. Spoilers possible.
My thoughts on this film are similar to that of mother!; any longtime follower knows how extensively I’ve gone over that one. Though these thoughts of mine and this comparison are a little more like fraternal twins than what some may have come to mind when I present this. mother! was a film I couldn’t comprehend on a metaphorical level, and left me with a confounded emptiness inside, despite thinking the film was fairly engrossing during. Annihilation is the same only that instead of a metaphorical level, it left me feeling empty from a “technical” standpoint. Translation: There was something about the movie’s mechanics that made me question its quality. While assembled now, it took some clarification from other reviewers and voices to really nail down what it was about this film that left me feeling “off.”
Also like mother!, Annihilation is an incredibly gripping and intense film, especially for those with a curious mindset. Its pacing reminds me of Arrival: slowly building up the details with perspective changes to keep the audience guessing throughout. A lot of the information is slowly provided as the characters dig deeper and deeper into this mysterious space referred to as “The Shimmer.” One can easily immerse themselves into this dimension of sorts full of danger, spectacle, and mystery, all while clonking the viewer over the head with visual clues as to what all of it means.
That, with every intention of goodwill within me, is probably what left me feeling so emotionally barren by the end. What it “means.” What the entire “point” of the movie was. What it was trying to say; if it were saying anything at all. Initially I thought, “Climate change?” That turned into “Alien defense,” which turned into “Why even bother?” For as much as Annihilation hooks one with all sorts of intrigue about the lead character—Natalie Portman’s character—there’s surprisingly little resolution to all that darkness portrayed inside. Even the side characters, which the film nonchalantly presents as complex, have various methods of dealing with their pasts (I think?) through their adventure within “The Shimmer.”
Speaking of nonchalant, I don’t feel a lot of humanity from this piece, despite the human focus. “Characters” as a piece of the puzzle is very loosely-slotted. I believe Portman’s character is appropriately developed and given a key amount of detail to make her worth empathizing with and, perhaps more importantly, ambiguous. Everyone else, however, has things that are brought up out of the blue and mined for the sake of plot convenience, and perhaps to make their outcomes more horrific. There’s some inner dialogue going on within me stating that characters may not be the true focus of the film, and that one should be paying more attention to the feelings of adventure or discovery or uneasiness that Annihilation does incredibly well. After all, I almost ignored the (lack of) strength of characters in Arrival, and I thought that film was fantastic despite it. Here, I suppose it’s more noticeable outside the main character, especially in specific scenes.
What didn’t bother me on a technical level was the visual and audio aspect. Mood-building is on-point, with lots of emphasis on creepy, horror, and foreboding atmospheres once within the “unknown.” And this feeling of fear of the unknown is present throughout. This film, despite it not seeming so, can be frightening at times. Horrific, brutal, overwhelming: all apply. The last twenty minutes held my attention like glue, with awe-inspiring special effects and a haunting soundtrack (or lack of one) creates an ultimately sublime feeling of wonderment. I may just recommend this for the ending sequence alone.
I almost feel misguided rating this movie as high as I am, seeing as the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and the characters could definitely be more well-rounded. But the constant feeling of immersion, the intrigue with everything taking place, and the sheer spectacle of visual horror and bewilderment make it hard not to give it the basic average score. Annihilation likely isn’t for everyone, and maybe people will find more to loathe it for if they aren’t as swept up in the emotionally-engaging part of the experience. Perhaps I’m in a biased boat when I say I have a soft spot for sci-fi in general, particularly ones with a foundation of strange happenings and investigation. For that alone, Annihilation is worth recommending… to people who share that specific niche.
Final Score: 7/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!