A Brilliant Thought Provocative Sci-Fi For The Ages
Writer and Director Alex Garland’s Annihilation is arguably one of the best sci-fi films since Blade Runner 2049 and before that, Arrival. With a strong thematic core and an incredibly tense atmosphere, this sci-fi thriller plays more like a horror for much of its run time, making for quite the uncomfortable watch. Although there’s some confusing editing and the opening act feels a little rushed, Annihilation’s mystery and hedonistic imagery is enough to keep you enthralled through to the poetic, thought provocative climax.
The story begins with Lena (Natalie Portman), a concerned wife who unwittingly becomes entangled in a government secret after her husband returns from duty a hollow shell of the man he once was. Recruited for a dangerous mission by sleepy Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Lena sets out with an all-female group into a strange, alien phenomena called The Shimmer. As they step into the unknown, their mission is simple – get to the lighthouse and figure out what’s happening. Without giving too much away, the story does a good job of building sustainable tension whilst still throwing up some action in small bursts. The film features a surprising amount of realistic dialogue too, building naturally toward a truly unique and special ending. Those expecting a big climax complete with guns, explosions and fight scenes will certainly leave disappointed but the conclusion to this unique sci-fi is the perfect, sombre end to a truly unique film.
Ultimately, it’s the thematic undertone and lack of hand holding that helps make Annihilation such a deep, thought provocative title. The themes are open for interpretation of course but predominantly play on themes around self-destruction, acceptance, determination, trust and more which dominates most of the narrative. Toward the end, these themes do shift slightly to explore ideas around cloning, DNA and the future of humanity. The shift is subtle enough that you’re unlikely to notice it and thankfully, the relentless tension never lets up. Although Annihilation is a deeply thought provocative sci-fi, there’s enough thrills and straight forward storytelling here to make it easy for anyone to jump in and enjoy at the surface level. For those who look deep sci-fi and hidden meanings, Annihilation is a gold mine of potential.
Annihilation is the sort of film that benefits from multiple watches too. There’s some really clever foreshadowing early on that’s hard to pick up the first time around and the deliberately placed dialogue and back stories for each of the women throughout the film to help reveal hidden easter eggs and further unravel the mystery. The poetic, sombre ending is a beautiful way to end this film too and led by a wonderfully emotional performance from Natalie Portman in the all-female group that enters The Shimmer, Annihilation nails its acting for the most part..
Annihilation is a uniquely presented, interesting film that challenges and surprises in equal measure. The suffocating, tense atmosphere gripping most of the film does a great job building toward the ending and although this is likely to be divisively received from audiences, it’s certainly a unique and beautiful way to end this sci-fi flick. Much like Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey and other culturally important sci-fi films, Annihilation has the potential to have long-lasting cultural importance. The decision to stream this straight to Netflix rather than the big screen is an audacious one and a signal of intent from the streaming giants but in the long run, Annihilation’s accessibility to so many people could just be the stroke of genius needed to push this to a broader audience that otherwise wouldn’t experience such a great title.