Review: Annihilation

Director(s)Alex Garland
Principal CastNatalie Portman as Lena
Oscar Isaac as Kane
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Ventress
Release Date2018
Running Time 115 minutes

If you haven’t already seen this movie, avoid the trailer because it spoils so much of the movie that I don’t understand why or how it was released.Now that I got that out of the way, Annihilation is one of the most ambitious science fiction movies I’ve seen in recent memory. The story follows a group of 5 scientists as they’re tasked with entering a zone enveloped by an alien aura known as “The Shimmer”.

This movie is a big discussion on creativity and its relation to the death drive. The Shimmer is filled with mutations that are either beautiful, horrifying, or some mixture of both. These creatures are not only meant to be horrifying, but are also used to provoke discussion on the nature of the alien substance. There are answers to its nature (the movie is fairly up-front about it), but the end of the movie is open enough to allow discourse on the meaning of it all. It’s a great movie to watch with friends and talk about afterwards because the movie does a great job of balancing giving direct answers and hinting at answers with multiple meanings. You could watch the movie straight up as a horror sci-fi movie with crazy sequences , but that would be a disservice to the layers going on. I’m not going to pretend to act like I got all of this on my first view. Honestly, the first time I saw this movie I really disliked a subplot focused on Lena, our protagonist. But on later viewings, I came to appreciate how it added to multiple themes in the movie. I still think it could’ve been done better, but I appreciate the reasoning behind it. Big Lovecraftian energy.

For those of you who are looking more for the sci-fi or the horror in the movie, don’t worry. The movie has them in spades. The movie might start off slow for some. There’s a lot of character work done (mainly exposition and introduction) here that pays off later, so I think it’s worth it, but I can see how it can feel grating. Thankfully, the movie soon transitions into “The Shimmer” and everything goes off the wheels. The visuals are jaw-dropping and watching the alien substance interact with everything is something you can’t stop looking at. Not to mention, the movie has one of the scariest creature moments in recent memory. It really stays with you. Once the 3rd act is underway, everything gets amped up another notch. The story and its themes come together in an audio-visual experience that’s wholly unique.

Every scientist feels developed and the audience gets a good insight into each of their personalities (even if some of that is done via the characters analyzing each other)They’re all good enough for the story and I could remember bits and pieces of them after I had first seen the movie. The cool thing about them is how the movie uses them all as foils to Lena which not only makes her decisions more interesting, but also nicely develops the themes.

The only issues with the film are some strange narrative choices. There’s a really odd framing device that’s used to explain a lot of the narrative. It feels almost like someone didn’t trust the audience to put the pieces together (which is false), so a lot of the movie comes to a painful standstill so that Lena can explain what we just saw to a room of people. It makes the movie feel bloated and I really wish it wasn’t there at all. The ending also feels odd – like it was tacked on to please audiences (which based on what I’ve read about production seems true). I don’t dislike it now, but I remember really thinking it was wonky on my first viewing.

Report Card

TLDRAnnihilation is a thought provoking treat on the eyes. It’s packed to the brim with sci-fi goodness and a real mystery. There are some story issues that make pacing a bit wonky, and the story takes a bit to start up, but once it does you’re in for something that can’t really be explained.


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