Main cast: Natalie Portman (Lena), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Dr Ventress), Gina Rodriguez (Anya Thorensen), Tessa Thompson (Josie Radek), Tuva Novotny (Cassie Sheppard), Oscar Isaac (Kane), David Gyasi (Daniel), and Benedict Wong (Lomax)
Director: Alex Garland
It is easy to be skeptical and even cynical about Annihilation. In a time when everyone in the media is capitalizing on virtue signaling in order to generate views and hence ad revenue, anything with a predominantly female cast is going to be blindly hailed as the best thing ever, often with bonus unnecessary nonsense like how the movie will smash toxic masculinity and shame Donald Trump into voluntary self-impeachment even as everyone who disagrees with these people will automatically self-combust, leaving behind a beautiful left-wing utopia where socialism reigns supreme, all the white and straight people have died off, and everyone else gets free money without having to work ever again. At least, until ten years down the road when these people run out of other people’s money to spend on themselves.
The truth, buried under all this woke nonsense propagated by the US and UK media these days, is that this is a movie directed and scripted by Alex Garland, who despite having almost reached fifty years of age without shedding his college-era pretentious twattery, managed to come up with some pretty solid genre scripts in the past. Yes, he’s a man, which only lends credence to the quote that behind twenty women hailed by these woke armchair activists as the heirs of the world or something, you will find a white man pulling all the strings. Back to this movie, it is loosely based on a trilogy of novels by Jeff VanderMeer (another pretentious git who thinks that his refusal to tell a straightforward story makes him better than everyone else), with this movie and those novels sharing the same premise but not much else.
So, a meteor crashes onto an area that will soon be demarcated as Area X in the southern coast of the US. The impact causes an electromagnetic barrier to form around the region. The barrier, called the Shimmer, is expanding slowly into surrounding areas. Of course, the US government isn’t going to just sit there and watch. Here come the usual passel of soldiers and scientists. Since nobody knows what is happening inside the area, teams of soldiers were sent in there to explore and report back, and oops, none of them return except for a soldier named Kane. Kane shows up one fine day a year after his disappearance at his wife Lena’s place, claiming that he has no memory of what happened while he was away. Shortly after, he falls ill and before Lena can blink, armed men show up to drag her and her husband to some secret military base.
Surprise, Kane is working for these people, and Lena is the last to know. Now that her husband is in critical condition, and she learns of the Shimmer as well as the nature of her husband’s work, she ends up joining the join an upcoming four-month expedition into the Shimmer. Hopefully, she will learn of what really happened to Kane. Oh, and this time around, the team is entirely female, with a lesbian black woman twofer to tick off the diversity checklist. Why? Apparently because this time, they are sending researchers rather than soldiers into the Shimmer in hopes of getting a different outcome, and I guess that makes sense somehow. Women are smarter, after all! Unfortunately, not smart enough to enter the Shimmer without any protective gear whatsoever. That’s right, no covering of the face or anything, and not even gloves when touching the weird stuff they encounter there! Hey, if the teams in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant can go all minimalist and still sur… oh, wait.
It turns out that the meteor carried with it some alien DNA, which proceeds to spread around the area and mutate the lifeforms in there. So say hello to crocodile-shark things, bears that can emulate your dying screams, and more! Aren’t these women glad that they aren’t encumbered by pointless baggage like missile launchers!
Annihilation is very determined to be a very intellectual kind of movie, hence it will have many slow-motion flashbacks and Natalie Portman speaking slowly in what she hopes to be a profound manner. I’m not sure whether Jennifer Jason Leigh is doing her own “Monotone is intellectual!” way of speaking her lines or it’s all that injected stuff inside her face getting in the way. Also, all the female characters here have heavy baggage like having left a daughter behind or has suicidal tendencies, so that way, instead of people remembering them as “the jock”, “the nerd”, etc, it’s now “the cutter”, “the one with the vegetable husband”, and such. The characters really aren’t deep beyond their identification with Tumblr-tier issues, and they also take forever to start dying, those inconsiderate jerks. Seriously, this movie is almost two hours long, but forty-five minutes into the movie and nobody has died yet. I’m supposed to be interested in the superficial angst train and Natalie Portman floating in languid flashbacks.
Things become more gory later on, but even then, by the end of the movie, the audience knows as much as the final girl – which isn’t much at all. Then again, it’s hard to rationalize anything in a movie where the basic premise is “Meteor falls, everything gets effed up!” But that’s the problem of this movie in a nutshell: it doesn’t have much to go on for as long as it is, and instead of telling a straightforward sci-fi horror tale – girls kicking ass style – it takes this turn and then that turn, expecting me to be sustained by the admittedly lovely cinematography and people moving as well as speaking slowly on the screen. Seriously, a twist later in the movie isn’t some revelation about the meteor or anything like that, it’s the identity of the man Lena was grinding away on in earlier flashbacks! Hello? Who cares! I want to see scary stuff in a movie marketed as horror, not some pseudo-intellectual angst train about overworked husbands and wives.
Oh, and the monsters are so fake, they are actually quite hilarious to watch. I don’t think that’s the intention of the people behind this movie, though.
The last quarter or so of the movie is actually pretty intriguing, as is the first quarter or so, hence Annihilation is one movie that would have been so much better if someone had pulled Mr Garland’s head out of his rear end orifice and made him cut out all the meandering, pretentious malarkey that is the rest of this movie. Chalk this one up as trying too hard.