Review Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Spoilers grow in all places and things!
Imagine for a moment, you’re a military spouse. No kids thank goodness, but hey, your other half went freaking missing on a super-secret expedition nearly a year ago, and just now managed to show back up. The spouse is apparently suffering all sorts of abnormalities, including severe memory loss, and the only reasonable thing to do is to send them back to their military’s medical unit, for extensive testing. Which is, more or less, exactly how the movie begins and we’re introduced to Lena (Natalie Portman) and her tiny selfish world that’s about to get a whole lot bigger.
Lena used to be a soldier herself, as we discover, but she left some years ago to pursue a career in, get this, biology and medical science. So just like the Amidala echoes that will never quite leave her, Portman as Lena is an odd mix of strengths and vulnerabilities. Lena insists, after ensconcing her husband with the doctors and researchers, that she herself go on the same mission her missing husband did, and right away, which finally leads us to the real garden of the story.
So way off in this super secret location out in the middle of nowhere, this anomaly has occurred, and those studying the anomaly have simply named it the Shimmer. All sorts of expeditions have been led into the Shimmer, and Lena’s husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) was the first person to make it back more or less alive and intact. However next to nothing can be gleaned from Kane’s walkabout, so Lena demands in all her quiet badassery to be in on the very next expedition going into the Shimmer herself.
Leading the expedition is Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the only one who knows that Kane is Lena’s husband, and rounding out the rest of all-girl group is physicist Josie Radeck (Tessa Thompson), anthropologist Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), and paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez). Each has their own motivations and personal secrets they’re toting along on the mission into the Shimmer, to find the lighthouse where purportedly the Shimmer first appeared.
Inside the Shimmer itself, time moves clearly very differently, and the distorted and refracted lights coming through, combined with who knows what else is going on inside the prismatic doohickey, make for vegetation and animal-life literally never before seen on Earth. It’s with these visuals, of the beautifully mutated flowers and psychotically changed combined animals, that ‘Annihilation’ truly shines and dazzles the audience.
Which is a good thing, because sadly the rest of the film is plagued with vague storylines and unrecognizable twists, stuttered pacing that alternates interminably slowwwww with breathless action-disaster scenes, and an ending that frankly, made little sense and could have been shaved of more than 10 minutes of weird unnecessary visuals. The very end bit, after Lena’s interrogation was finally over, was a tad predictable and could have easily been told a different way, but perhaps it’s closer to the book series the film is based on, The Southern Reach series by Jeff VanderMeer. As there are three books in the series, perhaps there will also be sequel films as well.
Like many things in this zany modern world, ‘Annihilation’ is a visual feast for the eyes, but in plucking and trying to understand that mutated flower now with extra-sharp teeth, the act of trying to fully comprehend the thing is what kills it. Watch it at least once anyways, for the crocodile-shark hybrid if nothing else.
Get yourself mutated with Annihilation, available on Netflix now!