When the credits started to roll and the title card for Annihilation appeared on the screen, it was stunning. I felt wowed and awed by not just the movie but the color scheme and design of the title card. Then, something else happened: my friend and I turned to each other and started to discuss the movie. It wasn’t just a simple discussion of whether we liked the movie or not, we immediately started talking about the ending, the entire third act of the movie, what it all could have meant, and what our theories were for what the implications of the ending meant. Annihilation wasn’t just an entertaining science fiction film but instead, it does what great science fiction is supposed to do: it makes you think and makes you ponder questions. Writer/director Alex Garland’s follow up to Ex Machina is not just a good follow up, Annihilation is an incredible follow-up.
Annihilation is an example of a movie that can have a simple plot but can have a lot going on underneath the surface. A meteor crashes at a lighthouse in a national forest and a strange orbit cloud called the Shimmer starts to expand and engulf a national forest. No one knows what is in the Shimmer and what the rules of the Shimmer are. Expedition teams go in but never come back out.
The movie uses a flashback framing device. It opens up with Natalie Portman’s Lena being interviewed by a group of scientists as the movie flashes back to show the events leading up to this. Occasionally also getting a flashback within a flashback exploring the events leading to Lena’s husband (played by Oscar Isaac) heading into the Shimmer and mysteriously returning from the Shimmer. Lena leads the current team back into the Shimmer.
That’s all the setup to the story and I won’t go any further into the plot of the movie. Annihilation works best when you’re just a part of the journey and don’t know too much else. The movie gets a lot of mileage over that seemingly simple but intriguing setup. The trailers are selling a creature feature, and while there is an element of that, that isn’t what the movie is about. This has a bit of inspiration from Alien in it’s slower more methodical nature but it isn’t a creature feature (even though it has some outstanding creature sequences).
Annihilation is deliberately slower paced. While this is still exciting in parts, and in some downright terrifying, it is constantly focused on the main character revealing little by little until the movie’s cerebral third act that’ll either leave you loving the movie or be downright baffled by it (or both). It is an ending that reminded me of parts of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The ending is beautiful, terrifying, ambiguous, and really challenging. Annihilation is dealing with themes of self-destruction, creation, and the end of all things. It leaves a lot to be discussed and dissected. Annihilation doesn’t fall into the trap of being heavy-handed nor does it confuse being unclear with being smart. Too often movies attempting to be smart avoid giving the audience anything to go, Annihilation is a perfect blend of giving you just enough but not feeding you the whole meal. I have a feeling different audiences will come up with their own interpretations of the film’s ending.
This isn’t in a sacrifice of spectacle, Annihilation has plenty of it. This movie is proof you don’t need 200 million dollars to make a beautiful looking science fiction movie. This film cost 40 million, and every frame is gorgeous. There is some incredible CGI along with some amazing animatronics. The color palette is absolutely eye-pleasing and even the action sequences are well executed. There is some great body horror that, I feel, pays some homage to David Cronenberg’s science fiction film classics like The Brood or The Fly (you could even say John Carpenter’s The Thing).
There have been some truly great Science Fiction films being released over the past few years. From big blockbuster style reboots, like the Planet of the Apes trilogy, to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, to Ridley Scott’s The Martin and Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. Annihilation will quite easily join the ranks of other great science fiction films and does what great science fiction is supposed to do, make us think, ponder and question. This is a movie you don’t just talk about what score you give it, you talk about what you think the movie means. I loved Annihilation and it is an absolutely amazing science fiction film. I can’t wait to go back and see it again. The word masterpiece is thrown around too quickly easily these days (I’m as guilty of that as anybody), so I will try to refrain from declaring Annihilation the next science fiction masterpiece so quickly (but, it just might be).