I happen to really enjoy Alex Garland’s work, particularly Ex Machina. Annihilation hit the theaters and disappeared almost immediately, so I didn’t get a chance to see it until last night.
In preparation for the film, back when I thought I’d catch it in the theaters, I read the source material. (My review for the book can be found HERE.) This action proved totally unnecessary. You can watch Annihilation without reading a single page of the book and be just fine. This is the case for two reasons. Firstly, Garland stripped the book’s sci-fi elements down to the barest essentials, which made a murky plot in the book very easy to digest on film. Secondly, Garland radically changed almost every personality aspect of Lena, Natalie Portman’s character. She is far more balanced, warm, and sociable in the movie than in the book. Garland also created a mainstream background for Lena compared to what existed in the book.
In fact, Garland altered a great deal of the movie from the book. The general premise is the same, but the circumstances, environments, and characters are all very different. This is not a bad thing at all. Garland delivered a tight, suspenseful movie that kept me guessing throughout. At times it struck me as almost horror because the scenes were so intense. But, I wouldn’t call it a horror movie — not by a long shot. I wouldn’t even call it a science fiction movie, though it exists firmly within that world. I would rather label this movie as a thrilling character study.
Portman plays a complex person. Her husband in the film, played by Oscar Isaac, is equally complicated. And while I found Portman’s supporting characters a little flat, everyone must agree that Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Gina Rodriguez gave it their all. Again, it has much in common with a horror movie in that we get snippets of who these characters are amidst the suspense, but we get to know none of them deeply.
I keep mentioning horror, yet the movie is actually very quiet in many ways, which certainly builds the suspense. It doesn’t feel obligated to tell you everything going on, though much is revealed by story’s end. However, stay loose and enjoy the ride. The movie demands a certain level of interpretation from the viewer.
Finally, the special effects are beautiful. The premise is that a meteorite hits a remote area in Florida. It begins to change the life within an ever-expanding zone. This is a mutation occurring at the cellular level, so the results are pretty astounding. Garland definitely succeeds at providing lifeforms that are both exotic but also within the realm of reality. It’s quite a sight to behold.
All in all, I feel that this is a severely underappreciated movie. It’s strange and demands a certain level of intellectual engagement by the audience, but it’s also well-made, well-acted, thrilling, and unique. I highly recommend you give it a try.
(Did you enjoy this review? Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)