What do extra terrestrials have in store when they finally come to Earth to check the place out, enslave us and take over for us since we’ve done such a great job. That’s a question that’s been asked in books, radio theater, video games and films for over a century. Whether they are benevolent visitors like “E.T.”, curious visitors from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” or killing machines on the hunt in “Predator,” the idea of aliens and and their relationship with Earth has been an interesting one to say the least.
Our latest odyssey into extra terrestrials and their fascination with the Earth comes in the form of “Annihilation” directed by Alex Garland, who brought us our impending nightmare we’ll face with Artificial Intelligence in “Ex Machina.”
Based on the “Southern Reach” trilogy of books by Jeff VanderMeer from 2014, in which a meteor lands and the land surrounding begins to re-claim itself and continues to expand. “Annihilation” is based on the first book in the series where a squad of tough women enter what is called Area X to explore and find the reason for the expansion of what is called “The Shimmer.”
What works for “Annihilation” is that it never holds your hand or tells you what is happening. You also have some very strong performances for the entire cast which includes Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Jennifer Jason Leigh, all of which comprise most of the squad who enter “The Shimmer” for answers on why previous expeditions have disappeared to never return with the exception of one person, played by Oscar Isaac.
The female leads all come from different background, yet share a commonality; they are flawed in either a physical or psychological way, which eventually leads to their breakdown and eventually succumbing to “The Shimmer” There are a lot of blink and you miss it moments which gives you a reason to watch this film over and over to pick up the subtle nuances that Garland throws in.
Where “Annihilation” might lose some people is once again, the same way it will bring people in. Garland isn’t interested in spelling things out for the audience. None of the characters are painted as either protagonists or antagonists, they are all searching for meaning, just like us, the audience.
“Annihilation” can be read into as much or as little as you feel necessary. Is it a standard sci-fi film where aliens are taking over slowly? Sure. Is it a film about becoming one with nature again, becoming self-less, and giving yourself up to something that might be bigger than you? Sure. There are so many ways to read this film, and that’s what makes it great, and where it leaves the audience come the end opens up more conversation for, hopefully, the next two films to complete the trilogy.
While I love the bright shiny colors and psychedelic trip Garland took me on, I especially love the attention world he creates and the conflicts it creates within the characters. It reminds me of what I love about “The Thing,” Sure, the creature effects are great, but give me conflict and something with stakes.
As far as I’m concerned, Garland is two-for-two in the directors chair and if this trilogy is allowed to be seen through, I could see it as some of the most epic science fiction in the last 20 years or so. So please don’t judge “Annihilation” yet as it’s still incomplete week as far as I’m concerned.