Charlie Kenney | Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Alex Garland’s (“Ex Machina”) latest film “Annihilation” is one of the most promising but ultimately one of the most disappointing science fiction films of the last decade.
“Annihilation” isn’t disappointing in its lack of excitement — indeed it’s at times a voraciously entertaining film. Rather, the film disappoints in its inability to achieve what it could have achieved. These shortcomings could, of course, be attributed to the fact that “Annihilation” is an adaptation of a novel; yet far too many less exciting books have been adapted successfully for that to be a satisfactory excuse.
“Annihilation” is centered around a ‘shimmer’ that has appeared on the coast of a semi-dystopian United States. This ‘shimmer’ acts as a prism of sorts and refracts, not just light, but also DNA and genomes, thereby causing animals and plants to take on each other’s traits — humans grow sprout plants and flowers take on the shape of humans. Although this prism effect seems more like a scientific marvel than a catastrophe, the government has sent multiple parties in and none have returned. The film centers on a party that includes Natalie Portman, and their journey into the ever-growing ‘shimmer.’
It’s a movie that contains scientific concepts and ideas that beg for fantastic cinematic experiences, and that at times bears fruit. The film contains mystery, action, scientific intrigue and drama components all at once. The problem, however, is that none of these elements come in the right doses or at the right times. Characters seem to fall out of the plot for no reason, scientific phenomena that beg to be explored are left hanging and the suspense the film contains is fleeting at the very least.
The major problem and shortcoming of “Annihilation,” however is not its individual elements, but rather the bigger picture — its plot. In saying plot, I am not implying that the ideas the movie is based around are boring or uninviting, but rather the way they are crafted into a narrative is where its dullness and lack of excitement come from.
The plot doesn’t focus on a voyage into the unknown, exploration of unknown science or the fight for survival, but rather the crux of the plot is Natalie Portman’s characters fight to find and save her husband who had gone into the ‘shimmer’ months earlier. In taking on this tinge, the film makes precisely the wrong things interesting. With concepts as unique, as approachable and as exciting as those contained in “Annihilation,” the focus should not be on a relationship between a wife and her husband but rather on the science and the violence it brings with it.
In addition to this, the ending of “Annihilation” instead of answering any questions, asks a thousand more. The ending comes with some finality, but for the most part delves into existentialism and eccentricity. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Chinatown” are loved for their ambiguous endings. But “Annihilation” doesn’t do ambiguity right. It overcompensates, backtracks and ends up walking all over itself.
In acknowledging the shortcomings of “Annihilation,” is not to say that it is a fruitless endeavor.
Alex Garland is a director with immense talent and potential to make incredibly, unique science-fiction films. Natalie Portman is a grossly underappreciated actress who should be gives roles with significance akin to that of hers in “Annihilation.” And the special effects of “Annihilation” were stunningly real and convincing. In making the film, Alex Garland’s name has become more household, Natalie Portman has shown that women can take on leading roles as effectively as men in action films and the cinematographers who made the film as beautiful as it is were able to artfully showcase their work.
It’s not a film that will likely take home much hardware come next fall and winter, and rightfully so, but it’s a film that does some good. It does good for the genre of science fiction, for the role of females in typically male-dominated roles and for bright up-and-coming filmmakers.