Back in 2015, writer Alex Garland stepped into the directing spotlight with his debut Ex Machina. This year, he follows his sci-fi masterpiece up with the long-awaited Annihilation – which is available to stream on Netflix now.
To keep plot details light, the story follows ex-military, now biology lecturer Lena (Natalie Portman) as she heads into The Shimmer – a mysterious presence that has slowly been growing outward, swallowing everything around it - after her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) appears insane due to whatever secrets lie inside. To reveal anything more would ruin the fun of Garland’s latest; similarly to The Shimmer itself, Annihilation remains a mystery – a seemingly alluring presence, the secrets and darkness of which remain unknown, just waiting to be unleashed. And what this film does offer us is quite the treat – a pensive, meticulously crafted, and provocative slice of science-fiction that is full of darkness and chilling beauty.
The screenplay is rich with intrigue and imagination; it’s another awe-inspired work from Garland – perhaps the slickest, most awe-inspired voice in sci-fi right now. Not only is the story haunting in its nature – recalling the likes of Arrival and Alien – but its superbly realised too; the world that is built here, that of The Shimmer, is so masterfully carved and the characters populating it are equally as elaborate and fascinating to create a wholly immersive narrative and experience that is easy to get lost into for some time. But to merely scratch the surface of the film is a task; nuance and careful storytelling seep through the surface, from the careful camera work to the nail-biting orchestration of tension and timing. This is a film that asks the big questions about human consciousness and life and it explores some rather intriguing themes and ideas, all of which are executed with such scalpel-sharp precision. Garland’s writing isn’t lightweight – it’s dark and complex – and certainly not to everyone’s liking but, personally, I loved the territory this film went into. Imagine watching a sci-fi whilst high on mushrooms or LSD: that's Annihilation.
Where the film falters is in perhaps not tying up all of its loose ends sufficiently; the ending – as exhilarating and trippy a finale as it is – does leave a lot of unanswered questions and plot holes. But not the kind that leave the book open for interpretation (although the film does that effectively with narrative elements that will certainly invite good discussion and analysis) but the film just has a few “what the fuck?” moments that get lost in the swirling plethora of ideas Garland offers. But there is still enough meat on the film’s bones to make for one filling and truly delicious meal. It’s gorgeously shot, the cinematography is sharp and stunning – the use of haunting imagery, especially, will scar itself into your brain, the kind of visual and psychological terror that keeps this a film scarier than most horror films off Hollywood’s conveyor belt despite the lack of actual horror tropes. It’s scored superbly too and the acting is exceptional; Garland brings the right balance of beauty and fun sci-fi to the table here, coupling it up with unnerving tension and intelligent ideas to create a film that is quite the provocative, stunning affair. It'll leave you... annihilated.
Alex Garland is two-for-two now. Annihilation is a pensive, meticulously crafted, and provocative slice of science-fiction that is full of darkness, mystery and chilling beauty.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.