When the credits rolled on “Annihilation,” my husband turned to me and said, simply, “That was weird.”
He didn’t mean it as a critique of the movie — just a simple statement of fact. “Annihilation” is, indeed, a weird movie — but it’s also beautiful, scary, and thrilling.
“Annihilation,” based on the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, follows Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist and former soldier. Lena’s husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), comes back from a secret military mission incredibly ill, and Lena wants to know why. It turns out that Kane was part of a mission to investigate the Shimmer, a strange, growing phenomenon that is covering part of Florida, and that nobody ever Returns from. Lena ends up on a mission, led by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), into the Shimmer in hopes that she can discover what happened to her husband.
“Annihilation” is a heady brew of tension, terror, and mystery that seamlessly goes between the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres. It is weird, and at times, it can be a confusing and even uncomfortable movie to watch. It’s a weirder film than director Alex Garland’s excellent previous film, 2015’s “Ex Machina,” but I can see Garland’s hand in the way that both films keep the audience feeling unsettled. Garland was also the screenwriter for “28 Days Later,” and it’s easy to see his horror roots on display, too. “Annihilation” is pretty scary at times, and it’s made scarier because the terror isn’t constant. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security, making the scary moments all the more terrifying.
“Annihilation” is blessed with excellent actors, too, which really round out the film. The characters could easily feel a bit stock, and there isn’t a lot of background information on any of the characters other than Lena and Kane, and even that is thin. However, the actors are good enough that their characters’ histories ooze from their performance. The film chooses instead to examine the characters within the context of their mission into the Shimmer, with a few important exceptions. The storytelling is spare, which is a great contrast with the lush setting of the film.
“Annihilation” is not going to be a blockbuster, because it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. You have to be ready for a strange, disturbing trip with an ambiguous ending. However, there is a particular subset of moviegoers who like a movie that is beautiful and strange, makes them think and sticks with them for a long time, and those are the people who are going to love “Annihilation.”
Jenny’s Take: See it before it leaves theaters.
(Rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality. Runs 115 minutes.)
Jenny Kobiela-Mondor writes movie reviews for KPC Media Group. Her columns are posted at kpcnews.com/opinion/columnists. A link to her blog can be found from her columns at kpcnews.com. She blogs at jenandkel poptarts.blogspot.com.