Jul 9, 2018

[Movies] Annihilation (2018) Review

The output of Netflix as a content creator has been quite the mixed bag. On average I feel like they definitely do better with their "television" efforts but aren't quite as consistent with their original movies. And that last bit is despite the fact that they have been able to rope in some big name stars like Brad Pitt but end up with disappointing movies like War Machine.

Annihilation is one of the more recent releases that actually got a lot of folks excited, primarily because of the source material. It's not always easy to translate some of the "heavier" or more serious science fiction novels out there but the decision to get into this story was a bold one.

The movie isn't quite a 100% faithful adaptation of the book into a movie, which is fair given how such adaptations normally go. Books and movies are very different forms of media and thus the way they tell stories is bound to differ. It's a little tricky figuring out if this movie was somehow better or worse than the book, but on its own it's certainly a very memorable entertainment experience.

Synopsis: Annihilation is a 2018 science fiction movie written and directed by Alex Garland for Netflix. The screenplay was based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer.

The entire movie is framed by a debriefing of biology professor Lena (Natalie Portman) regarding a mission for the US Army. The mission centered around a some sort of an anomaly called the "shimmer" that her husband had first been secretly sent to investigate only to leave him the only survivor of his expedition. Lena ends up volunteering to join another exploration of the affected area with the goal of reaching the lighthouse that is believed to be the origin of the shimmer. The first time had been sent there as well but it remained uncertain if they had ever made it given Lena's husband's damaged mental state since his return.

The expedition consists of all women this time around (as opposed to all men in the first mission) including fellow scientists Josie (Tessa Thompson) and Cassie (Tuva Novotny), medic Anya (Gina Rodriguez) and psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Once inside the area affected by the shimmer the team loses communications with the world outside the shimmer and their navigation equipment no longer seem to be operating correctly. And inside they see more strange things such as various hybrid organisms that appear to be a combination of plants and animals.

What I Liked: The movie has some great visuals and how they bring to life the various hybrid creatures makes for some fascinating things. Key imagery included the flowers that happen to have grown in the shape of people and of course that freak bear. Some serious artistry went into crafting the visual side of this story and I'm all for it. And we're not just talking about scene-stealing big CGI creations but a lot of subtle touches that remind you that things are not quite normal inside the shimmer.

The movie gathers some pretty talented actresses to convey the rather complex emotional journey each one experiences. The shimmer naturally affects everyone over time and that results in each of them manifesting complex mental states and related problems. And it's not just a lot of shouting mind you - things take some time to build up and the changes start subtle until they're hard to miss. And watching that journey is really what helps drive this story.

What Could Have Been Better: That said, the things start slow to the point that you wonder if things will get moving. Even just the short bit before they enter the simmer seems to drag on for a bit of time that feels longer than it needed to be. Or maybe that's more because Natalie Portman stares quite intensely in a lot of her movies and that sort of blurs into this movie somehow by association.

The way things end felt a little off to me or at least a little traditional Hollywood science fiction ending maybe. It even has a final scene that leaves the door open for how things really resolve and that was interesting but at the same time a little cheap or cliche even. But it was an original ending written for the movie as this story is only really similar in terms of the book's premise but not really the whole story.

TL;DR: Annihilation is definitely one of the more interesting movie ventures for Netflix and a good science fiction movie when you get down to it. It's not high thrills and big action sequences but it's a good story that is told in a visually striking manner. Thus the movie gets a good 4 creepy plant-animal hybrid creatures out of a possible 5.

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