“Annihilation” is a weird movie. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, but it’s good to know that going in. It’s a trippy, mysterious, puzzling, sometimes beautiful/sometimes terrifying science fiction film that dares to ask more questions than it answers.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you know the basic premise — Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a biologist and former soldier who is grieving the loss of her husband. He was last seen embarking on a top-secret mission to infiltrate an anomaly known only as “The Shimmer.” Not much is known about what caused “The Shimmer” or what’s happening inside this mysterious phenomenon. However, it is spreading out like a forcefield from its point of origin and is gradually taking over more and more land. Nothing inside the zone exits the shimmering forcefield, and no one who has entered the zone has come back out.
After a series of spoiler-y plot twists, Lena decides to join a team entering “The Shimmer,” and inside she finds a strange world where the laws of nature are bending into something weird and new. The discoveries made by the team will change the way life and biology are viewed — or worse, perhaps even end the world as we know it.
It’s difficult to discuss the film further without veering into spoiler territory, so if you’d like to be fully surprised by this film, I’d recommend stopping here. I’ve tried to keep this review entirely spoiler-free, but I feel the less you know about “Annihilation” going in, the more impactful the film will be.
This probably isn’t a movie for everyone. It has received a good response from critics — 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — but a slightly cooler reaction from audiences at 65 percent. The story is revealed in layers that don’t always make sense at the time, and sometimes it can be tough to keep track of the shifting timelines (although this technique does help reinforce the film’s intentionally unsettling tone).
The visuals were one of my favorite parts of the movie; the land inside “The Shimmer” is both haunting and beautiful. At first it looks like a paradise with an explosion of growth and brightly colored flowers, but you can sense the whole time that something is “off.” There’s danger in this paradise, and it doesn’t take Lena’s team long to encounter it. They begin to discover some of the dark secrets learned by previous teams who entered “The Shimmer” but never came out.
I enjoyed Natalie Portman’s performance as the lead character, who, like the film itself, has more layers and secrets than you first suspect. Her reasons for entering “The Shimmer” are more complex than she’s willing to admit to the team. Another standout was Gina Rodriguez as straight-talking paramedic Anya Thorensen.
Like I said before, this is at times a pretty weird movie, and I’m still trying to decide how I felt about the unusual ending. Some of the things that happened in the film’s final act don’t fully make sense, at least to me, though perhaps that was intentional. Although sometimes an ending can make or break a movie, I feel “Annihilation” is a film that’s still well worth watching, even if you don’t like the ending, because the journey to get there is so fascinating.
“Annihilation” made a much stronger impression on me than the last sci-fi/horror film I saw in theaters — “Alien: Covenant” — and I appreciated that it dared to be weird and take some creative risks. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a movie quite like “Annihilation,” and I loved watching a movie that felt so fresh and different.