Review – Annihilation

To say I am confused by Annihilation, the latest film written and directed by Alex Garland, would be a massive understatement.  I’m confused even more so as to why or how this film has gotten such high praise.  With a 7.2/10 rating, and a 79 Metascore, I was under the impression that this sci-fi thriller would potentially be the next great mind-bender.  Instead, it became a downward spiral from an interesting concept into an underwhelming scientific mess.

As a mentioned already, Annihilation was written and directed by Alex Garland.  Garland, who already has the success of Ex Machina under his belt from 2015, is a gifted writer who seems to specialize in sci-fi, apocalyptic-type storytelling.  As a fan of Ex Machina and 28 Days Later (also written by Garland), I was excited to finally settle in and find out for myself what the hype was about.

Unfortunately, the hype was not real.  Annihilation is a confusing, muddled group of ideas morphed into a pile of mediocrity at best.  While the screenplay appeared to be solid at first, the film slowly but surely unravels into a tale with an incomplete plot and unclear premise.  I am assuming the movie acts as a metaphor for something bigger than what is seen (and I am usually great at picking up those subliminal messages), so it’s honestly not out of the realm of possibility that I just wasn’t smart enough to pick up what Garland was putting down here.

The strength of Annihilation is the performances of its cast, particularly Natalie Portman and Gina Rodriguez.  Rodriguez continues to blossom into an A-list caliber talent, and is more than capable of taking over scenes from the rest of the ensemble.  I think this was a great role for her and it showed some range, as she portrayed a vulgar, bad-ass action diva – a side of her we haven’t really seen on screen.  Portman carried the film, delivering excellence as usual.  If it weren’t for her, I don’t know how far this film would’ve gotten in my viewing.

I should’ve known better and lowered my expectations of Annihilation due to the fact that it was a February release.  Typically, distribution companies that release films early within the first quarter of the year aren’t showing their strongest projects yet.  However, Get Out, released almost a year to the day prior to Annihilation in 2017, and Black Panther, released this year a week prior, were rare strikes of gold.  Those types of successes are extremely uncommon for February releases.  Technically, it can happen, but it didn’t happen here.

I’d love to tell you what the movie is about, but I honestly am not exactly sure.  As beautiful as Annihilation’s canvas was, its foundation was blurry.  I’d compare it to quicksand – being unexpectedly stuck in mud without knowing how deep it can get or how to get out.  The script finds itself in quicksand, and consequently so does the audience.

The movie starts off with intrigue, as Portman’s character, Lena, is being sequestered by a room full of people who appear to be scientists in HAZMAT suits.  Her husband (Oscar Isaac) then returns from a secret expedition after being missing and presumed dead for a year.  Sounds pretty interesting, right?

No, it’s not the Ghostbusters, it’s Lena (Natalie Portman) and her group surveying unchartered territory in Annihilation.

Then, all of a sudden, he becomes ill out of the blue and police take over the ambulance transporting him to the hospital.  Wifey needs answers, and so do we.  Unfortunately, like us, Lena also needs to go through almost two hours of the aforementioned metaphorical quicksand to find out what is going on.

From there, Annihilation takes you on a journey that felt sadly more like a bad acid trip.  There’s strange disappearances, new species, a random affair, a mime/alien/God-like figure and a weird culmination that STILL makes you ask yourself one question: OK, but why?

Annihilation is guilty of committing what I believe is the worst crime in filmmaking – it tries way too hard.  I felt like I was watching a movie written by writers who just wanted to be mind-blowing at any cost, instead of producing substantial substance and character depth.  This script produces no depth whatsoever.  Recent sci-fi classics like Arrival, or Gravity, changed the game because of how empathetic their stories were written.  The mindbenders and twists came naturally out of incredible scripts.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think anything was natural about Annihilation, which ultimately led to its downfall.  I’m not sure why all the acclamation from some critics, but you won’t find any of it here.  In fact, two words sum this movie up perfectly – fool’s gold.