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Annihilation – film review

December 6, 2018

ANNIHILATION

Dread-filled journey into the unknown is genuinely creepy.

Reviewed on Saturday 24th November 2018


Directed by Alex Garland. Screenplay by Alex Garland, based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer. Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Oscar Isaac. Running time: 115 mins.

A team of psychologically damaged female scientists chosen for their self destructive tendencies are sent on a potentially suicidal mission to investigate the source of a DNA-altering cosmic infestation running rampant within a quarantined area of Florida swampland.

PLEASE NOTE: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Alex Garland’s highly-anticipated follow-up to his directorial debut Ex Machina definitely has a cosmic horror vibe to it with the underlying concept being somewhat similar to H.P. Lovecraft’s classic (oft imitated) tale The Color Out Of Space. Featuring a tense and creepy atmosphere punctuated by moments of intense horror, the various genetic mutations encountered in the local flora and fauna by the scientific team range from bizarrely beautiful – to downright disturbing.

With mystery surrounding the fate of previous expeditions into the (gradually expanding) infected zone, there is a palpable sense of dread which pervades the narrative. And the replay of a camera video left by a previous expedition provides the film with its first truly horrific moment – presenting images which sear themselves into the psyche much like the ship’s log scene from Event Horizon – packing a visceral punch which will be virtually impossible to forget. By the mid-point of the movie the question is raised – were previous teams taken out by creatures inhabiting the zone or were they in fact (and more disturbingly) driven insane by their encounter with the source of the infestation and turned on one another.

Ultimately, and much like the xenomorph originally envisaged in Alien, or the organism in John Carpenter’s The Thing, (two previous films also arguably influenced by H.P. Lovecraft) – the cosmic antagonist in this film has no political agenda for world domination. It is merely a force of nature. It does what it does because it is encoded within its DNA. And this makes it completely terrifying – it is something which cannot be reasoned with.

Loosely based on an award-winning novel by Jeff VanderMeer, Garland’s compelling screenplay was reportedly written in response to a single read-through of the book and based almost entirely on Garland’s initial impressions of the source material. Considering the film version is largely the result of Garland’s own imagination, it seems unlikely that either of the two sequel novels will be adapted for the screen anytime soon (which – in this unending age of unnecessary sequels and pre-planned trilogies – might actually be a good thing).

Whilst I was fortunate enough to view Annihilation on a relatively large home theatre set-up, I would have much preferred the experience of seeing it first in an actual cinema. Sadly, and inexplicably, Paramount decided against releasing it in theatres outside the US. A decision to its detriment I will never understand.

Viewed on Blu-ray.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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2 Comments
  1. Another fine review Greg. I agree with you about the film- it has a sense of dread and horror that is almost unique (that corpse/creature in the abandoned swimming pool was so beautiful and horrible that it bugged me for weeks afterwards), and it’s definitely one of the best films I have seen this year. The ending was one of those frustrating and perfect ones that I smile about forever.

    Regards Paramount selling it to Netflix, I have mixed feelings. While I do think the film deserved a cinema release (and at least Blu-ray releases do seem to be finally coming for the non-Netflix crowd), I can fully understand the studios fears. This film is just so strange and grim. It was never going to find a big audience. Its a little bit like BR2049, I absolutely adore it but it is so slow and beautiful and thoughtful it was never going to be a blockbuster at the box-office and I have to pinch myself that it even exists. Its such a shame, but films like these are almost against the grain, as if they just slip out by freak chance and never have a hope of fulfilling any monetary targets. I only wish films like these could be made cheaper- expensive enough to maintain their sense of scale but just not quite as extravagant, so that they do not become perceived as a ‘failure’. To be clear, I do not think either Annihilation or BR2049 are anything less than fantastic successes, but their financial issues risk impact on the careers of the creatives behind them and ensure studio aversion from making projects like them again.

    (Which does raise a point- what great films would John Carpenter have made had The Thing been a success, or had he not made it all? Have we ‘lost’ a masterpiece of My Stars My Destination or Starship Troopers because we got The Thing instead?).

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    • gregory moss permalink

      Cheers Ian. And you’re right – we should be just thankful these films even exist. It’s just a shame we don’t see more of them. But there does seem to be a turning of the tide – what with audacious films like this and MANDY coming out the same year – and being widely appreciated. I reckon it’s time for studios to stop insulting our collective intelligences and have the balls to take more risks.

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