Director: Alex Garland
Natalie Portman’s Lena is a college biology professor whose soldier husband Kane (played by Oscar Isaac) disappeared, presumed killed, on his last secret mission. She’s stuck in grief and refuses to move on. And then, one day, he mysteriously returns. But he’s different, with no memory of what’s happened to him. His health rapidly deteriorates, and he is rushed to a military compound where Lena discovers that he was a part of a Special Forces-esque team sent to investigate the location of a meteor crash in the Florida swampland. The region has been enveloped in “Shimmer”, a mysterious effect that is changing the land under it, and one that is slowly expanding outwards. Kane is the only person from several expeditions who has returned from this location, now known as Area X.
Desperate to know what has happened to her husband, Lena volunteers to join up, and is assigned the next mission, heading into the unknown with a team of scientists, whereupon Annihilation reveals itself as the psychedelic Alien. This small group of explorers stumbling into something huge, unknown, and lethal has the same sense of nature and biology frighteningly out of kilter, but in a much more flamboyant and colourful way. The imagery throughout the infected zone is astonishing and often beautiful. It’s verging on spoilers to describe anything in much detail (although the cries of the bear will stay with you for a long time, believe me), but I can promise you it’s a hallucinatory voyage that makes the toddle up the Mekong in Apocalypse Now look like a trip to the corner shop. The climax, as Lena makes it all the way into the heart of Area X, becomes a cosmic communion like the end of 2001. Even some slightly flaky CGI works, helping to create the sense of not-quite-right artificiality that the film is soaked with, from the lighting and film stock upwards. A genuine Uncanny Valley, in so many senses of the phrase.
It’s not an easy film. There’s no happy ending, no explanations, no one to root for. But there’s thought, imagination and vision evident in every frame. Simultaneously distancing and involving, it’s one of the most unsettlingly brilliant movies I’ve seen in a long time, and proof that along with Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, we might be living in a golden age for cinematic SF.
This should be one of those films that is talked about in a decades time as a classic. It should also really be seen on a big screen, but you won’t be doing that, I’m afraid. Thanks to a studio and financier scared that their movie was too intellectual and too complicated, it’s been sent to Netflix, with no cinema release over here. Sigh. Prove them wrong. Watch it.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
the other films I’ve mentioned, Alex Garland’s previous move Ex Machina