Alex Garland, writer/director of Ex Machina, delivers another mature sci-fi film, this time about a platoon of scientist-soldiers sent in to investigate an area surrounding some kind of meteorite that is impenetrable to all scans and observations. Natalie Portman leads the all-female cast on a journey into surreal landscapes as they search for whatever lies at the heart of this zone called “the shimmer” and things take weirder and darker turns as the film progresses. I found a lot to like in the writing and the visual design of the film and I would have to say it’s good, but not great.
First of all, I really do love the esthetics of the movie, very colourful and pretty but also very creepy and unsettling sometimes. The film has a nicely strange tone, approximating the constant disorientation the characters are subject to while inside the shimmer, with everything taking on a quasi-hallucinogenic prismatic aura. There is a lot of gory violence but I thought it appropriate to the story which deals with shapeshifting, mutation and metamorphosis.
Also, I quite liked the characters and enjoyed spending time in the movie with them, though they aren’t entirely above cliché. There were some nice moments between each and I had a good sense of who they were and cared about them. However, some choices by certain characters felt a little dubious to me, like I had a hard time believing someone would go off alone despite obvious danger. That is something that always ruins a movie for me, and it happens here.
I loved a lot of the creepy visuals and ideas floated throughout the film, but one or two things were a bit silly even though they were clearly supposed to be eerie or gross. I found the ending, while logical enough, to be rather bland, if not slightly insipid. It could have been better, more interesting, less predictable, but that’s par for the course and the rest of the movie I quite liked, so I’ll forgive it. At least it didn’t insult my intelligence and there is something in it to think about after the film is over.
In my opinion, Annihilation is a well done (if flawed) creepy sci-fi/horror blend with some interesting ideas. I enjoyed the dualistic atmosphere of beauty and dread throughout the journey into the shimmer and found the characters very sympathetic, but I didn’t care much for the ending. Still, there is plenty here to recommend it and I would probably see it again.