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‘Annihilation’ (review)

Produced by Scott Rudin, Andrew Macdonald,
Allon Reich, Eli Bush
Screenplay by Alex Garland
Based on Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Directed by Alex Garland
Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh,
Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson,
Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac

 

Annihilation, the new film, written and directed by auteur film maker, Alex Garland, is so close to being a masterpiece that it actually hurts me so much that it is not.

Garland’s first film, Ex Machina, was my favorite film of 2014. His screenplays for Sunshine (2007), Dredd (2012), and Ex Machina (2014) made him one of my favorite recent screenwriters. He has now adapted the award-winning and incredibly dense novel, of Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer.

Thought to be basically “unfilmable”, Garland has done an amazing job of distilling the essence of the book into a tight, well told film that is as gripping as it is awe inspiring.

Annihiliation, the book, is the first book in the “Southern Reach Trilogy”. As to whether the movie adaptation will be the first in a film trilogy remains to be seen. The critical response has been overly positive and I must mostly agree with my fellow critics so hopefully they will continue the story especially as it feels like there is so much more to tell by the end of the film.

Annihilation follows the story of a small band of scientists as they enter and explore an extraordinary phenomenon called “Area X”.

Nicknamed “The Shimmer” by the soldiers and scientists studying it, it is an area of unknown origin where the laws of nature seem to be going haywire and nothing is as it is supposed to be. It has spread over three years engulfing a huge swarth of land, including a small town and military base. It originated at a coastal lighthouse when a meteor impacted and began the slow expansion where anything that enters it does not return.

Numerous expeditions have been sent in to examine and explore “the Shimmer” and none have come back save a single soldier, the husband of one of the scientists now about to enter the area. She is determined to find out what happened to her husband and the rest of the teams the have disappeared.

I went into this film not having read the original novel. After reading the synopsis of the book right before I began writing this review, I am convinced that Alex Garland has done an amazing job at retaining the essence of the book while altering certain parts to cater to the more visual nature of film stoyrtelling without detracting from what VanderMeers initial intentions were.

The visuals of Annihilation are breathtaking and some of the concepts throughout are staggering and sometimes shocking. Garland’s signature storytelling style are reminiscent to that of Denis Villeneuve and early Terrence Malick. He is methodical and very intentional. Every frame of the film has meaning and substance. The film becomes a stream of conscious feast of the mind that I goblet up unabashedly.

Its only the small stumbling block and the thing that, as I said at the beginning, keeps this from being a complete masterpiece is the less then amazing ending.

The film builds and builds, things keep becoming more convoluted, yet wondrous. So many questions abound in my head. What is “the shimmer”? Why is it doing what it is doing? Is it an alien lifeform? What is its purpose? What happened to everyone? What is the ultimate motivation of the characters?

So many questions. It became abundantly clear that they were not going to be answered. I was okay with that. I didn’t want them answered.

Then Garland, kinda sorta maybe started to answer them. That is where he ultimately lost me. I felt the the end fell back on old tropes and well worn devices. We have been here before. The unsatisfying ending was unsatisfying to me, because in an entire film that showed me things I had not seen before and ideas that were new and exhilarating to have it all come crashing down to something that has been done before was a let down. It definitely didn’t ruin the film it just wasn’t life altering and that is what I thought I was finally getting.

Perhaps it is the nature of telling this kind of story. The build up in our mind can never be superseded by what we are eventually shown. I don’t know. What I do know is that this film is still phenomenal despite the lackluster ending. It definitely took me places and showed me things in a way that were fresh and enjoyable to watch.

I would definitely go see this film again. There is so much that I want to see again.

In the end that is the true sign of a great movie, making the audience want to come back for another viewing. I will be returning to “The Shimmer” if for no other reason then to be wowed again by the incredible visuals and cinematography.

 

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