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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "Annihilation" dooms us all

Feb 22, 2018 04:59PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny, Gina Rodriguez, and Tessa Thompson in Annihilation - © 2018 Paramount.

Annihilation (Paramount)

Rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.

Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, Sonoya Mizuno, David Gyasi.

Written by Alex Garland, based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer.

Directed by Alex Garland.



I’m a big fan of Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s 2015 directorial debut about the potential ethics and security problems that might arise, should artificial intelligence become more prevalent in our society. It was a movie that challenged beliefs, inspired deep thoughts and as an added bonus, it was visually exquisite, with some impressive special effects. I went into the screening for Annihilation, Garland’s latest film, hoping to have my brain challenged even more.

Annihilation is the story of Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist grieving over the loss of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), a special ops soldier who disappeared after leading a mission into a mysterious haze caused by the crash of a strange meteor. Several other soldiers and explorers had previously disappeared into “the Shimmer,” where time seems to stand still and all sorts of mutated creatures thrive. In the depths of her grief, Kane suddenly appears at her door in a stoic mood, only to collapse into coma. Lena and Kane are taken to the research facility near the Shimmer, where Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is planning to lead another (all female) team back into the void to find answers. The team consists of Ventress, Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Josie (Tessa Thompson) and Shephard (Tuva Novotny). Lena convinces Ventress to add her to the expedition, and they head out. Once inside, strange things begin to happen, and one by one, the women get killed off (not much of a spoiler here, since the demise of the expedition is given away in the movie’s first scene), sometimes by large predator hybrids – and sometimes by their own paranoia, supposedly influenced by the Shimmer’s strange powers. Eventually, Lena reaches the spot where the meteor crashed, only to discover greater threats and even stranger circumstances involving an alien force that is difficult to comprehend.

Annihilation is a visually stunning film, much like Garland’s Ex Machina. Unlike Ex Machina, Annihilation takes a darker approach to exploring the human condition. Instead of provoking deep thought or struggling with any kinds of ethics, Annihilation is a film that lives up to its title, leaving audiences with a generous serving of nihilism. Perhaps the main point of “we’re all doomed, anyway” is cool to ponder for some, but it felt more like how I would imagine a hallucinogenic weekend bender might turn out.

As Lena and Ventress discuss some of the finer points of human existence in the film’s middle act, they point out quite emphatically that humanity’s only fatal flaw is that our biology dooms us to deteriorate until we die. The defeatist tone that only Jennifer Jason Leigh can deliver in her mumbling voice only adds to the joy. Yeah, now cue up Pharell Williams' “Happy” song as you leave the theater. It's as if Debbie Downer consulted on the story. 

Speaking of downers, it should be noted that there is a lot of disturbing gore in Annihilation, with plenty of gruesome images, earning a much deserved hard “R” rating. In the end, it's a horror movie with psychedelic filter.

Look, I get it. The reality of death awaits us all but Annihilation bypasses the joy of living. There’s a lot of art in the movie, but there isn’t much meaning…at least for me.