'Annihilation' (2018) Review

From the director of one of the best science-fiction movies of the past few years, 'Ex Machina', comes 'Annihilation'. A smart, riveting and tense film that no one's going to watch. Because why would they?

This is the kind of science-fiction movie I want. Something I think every single science-fiction fan has said after they saw this, which makes it a damn shame when either this or 'Blade Runner 2049' (the other "this is the kind of science-fiction I want" movie) haven't done well at the box office. With 'Annihilation' it's even more heartbreaking knowing the expression "dumped on Netflix" has to be used for everyone outside the United States. Knowing I couldn't go to a movie theater and watch it properly and instead be confined to my own home, watching it on a Netflix tab on Google Chrome, got increasingly more difficult to take in as this beautifully shot movie unveiled itself. I don't wanna get into the Netflix model too much as that could warrant its own article. It's a great idea for the most part, but movies like 'Annihilation' that really have something of value to say and can easily make for one of the strongest movies of the year with staying power guaranteed for at least the next decade, having it released on Netflix just like that and have most of its audience just casually stumble upon it one night and watching it if they can't find anything else almost prevents that staying power. Far more movies released on Netflix will come and go no matter the quality and I fear that's what's going to happen here.

I was surprised to find a lot of creepier elements involved in this, of course I was too simple-minded to find horror as one of the genres listed on letterboxd along with thriller and mystery, so I wasn't aware it was as big of an element as it ended up being (no I didn't watch any of the trailers either). These are only positive aspects, science-fiction stories like this work far better when they're taken seriously and explore the darker aspects - especially when it's dealing with the unknown. 'Arrival' is an excellent recent example of this. The tension grips you right from the start and doesn't let go but instead makes sure you are properly glued to the screen and pays attention to every single detail, just trying to understand what's going on. Thankfully, for the most part the movie never flat out tells you what it's doing. It never looks at you with the intent of laying out exactly what it all means on the table and explaining it all. For the people in the peanut gallery who could not care less and remains on their phones for most of it, this is a bad thing because they won't get anything out of it and walk out hating it. For the people who actually care, they'll get a lot to chew on.

The performances are all very good, albeit not noteworthy enough to stand up to the recent Denis Villeneuve movies or even Alex Garland's previous effort in the science-fiction genre. Natalie Portman does well enough but I can't help but feel someone else could've been in that part and probably deliver something more memorable, which is sadly what I feel about most of her performances. Jennifer Jason Leigh on the other hand is great, as is Tessa Thompson. They make these genuinely haunting scenes come to life and leap out of the screen. The same haunting scenes that could easily come across comical with lesser actors in them. In the hands of Alex Garland's controlled direction and his well paced script, you believe everything you see, and you fear it.

'Annihilation' is a wonderful experience and one everyone outside the United States with a Netflix subscription really have no excuses not to check out. It's the absolute best example right now of ambiguity done right. It leaves just enough for you to chew on for the delicious aftertaste to last several hours. It joins the ranks of 'Ex Machina', 'Arrival' and 'Blade Runner 2049' as the best cerebral science-fiction movies of the past few years, and I cannot wait to see what Alex Garland has in store next.


- Lucas


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