R | 1h 55min | Adventure, Drama, Fantasy | 23 February 2018 (USA)
Synopsis: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.
Review: Sci-fi could be one of the most broad of all genres. Some – myself included – will claim to embrace sci-fi because of their love for Star Trek, Jurassic Park, and Star Wars. Purists will say you have to be in touch with the more organic like District 9, Primer, or a form of body snatching. The new, brain tampering, visually creative, ANNIHILATION should meet fans of both. It isn’t perfect and sadly the acting is less than stellar but the inception is grand and the arrival of the final showdown is just shy of glorious.
The premise is simple. Lena (Natalie Portman) is a former Army enlister now teaching biology. When situations, which I won’t reveal here, lead her to join an expedition into a phenom area on the coast she finds that mother nature may have gone a tad mad. Lena and the four women with her try hard to keep a grip on reality as each battles a personal, inner demon.
ANNIHILATION starts strong and has an immediate tension. As a viewer you just feel the weight of what’s to come. I think it has to do with the fact that no one smiles. It is subtle but works. Lena is telling her story to a guy in a haz mat suit – never a good sign – and whatever she has been through is still written in her dark eyes and on her creased brow. The story moves quickly and you get pieces as you need them. There is little fluff here and each reveal is important.
Thank god for Natalie Portman. She literally carries this narrative. The other cast members are talented women of film so I am not sure where their inability to engage comes from. The script is not horrible and I know that Alex Garland (Ex Machina) is a formidable director and writer. I have had a “screen crush” for Jennifer Jason Leigh since Single White Female and we all know that Gina Rodriguez kicks butt. Here they seemed to struggle with the blank, monotone delivery that often comes with films like this. It is possible to be void of emotion and still show emotion. Many times though the words just fell out of their mouths with no legs to carry them forward.
Visually this film is unrivaled. Whether a fan of sterile aesthetics, vivid other world expanse, or just organic mother earth goodness; this film has moments of all three. Set in marshy swamp land but still keeping the science element prevalent the balance is powerful. The things these women encounter are at times shocking and seem to come out of nowhere. These are not jump scares but savage intrusions that you won’t anticipate. Another smart decision my the production team. And as I mentioned, the final showdown is a dance of artistry and terror that will have people talking long after.
ANNIHILATION is rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality. 90% of this film is straight forward tension. The other 10% will creep you out! I give it 3.5 out of 5 gene splices. Nothing is used in excess nor does it try to do too much. Fans of the genre will appreciate that.