Reviewed by: Ryan Mclelland

Annihilation has been dumped into theaters and soon will be available nearly worldwide on Netflix except for the United States and Canada.  That’s a whole other ball of wax.  It’s a damn shame as this movie is just amazing.  Over the past few years there’s been some “smart” sci-fi that I haven’t liked, Interstellar and Arrival for example.  There’s just things I couldn’t get over in the scripting to make me accept the movie for what it was.  Then came along Blade Runner 2049 and made me feel like sci-fi could feel epic without having to resort to some sort of script trickery to end the movie.

I feel this way about Annihilation.  It is a lower budget movie that has a big budget feel.  It’s smart, powerful, and a bit of a horror film as well.  It can be hard to watch at times and other times it can be truly beautiful.  Annihilation can also be an allegory for our world as it is today.  Everyone seems to think we are “destroying the Earth” to which I always say the Earth will always be here.  In some shape or form.  Inhabitable or uninhabitable doesn’t matter to the planet, it only means something to the life living on the planet.  I think Annihilation plays greatly into that thought process.

The movie revolves around Lena (Natalie Portman) a biologist currently teaching at a university, but also having several years of Army service under her belt.  Her hubby Kane (Oscar Isaac) still serves in the Army and he has been missing for a year when we start the film.  Suddenly Kane shows up at the house but is unable to answer questions about where he has been.  Lena is really puzzled about her husband but he soon starts bleeding, then seizing.  When Lena gets Kane into an ambulance they are stopped in route to the hospital by the military in which both Lena and Kane are seized.  Lena is drugged unconscious.

When Lena awakens she meets Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a psychologist at the facility they took Lena to.  Ventress begins to explain what is going on at this facility.  Right outside is something called “The Shimmer.”  It kind of looks like if you used the bubble solution and blew a huge massive bubble over a piece of land.  It’s way trippy.  Ventress explains that when people go in, no one comes out.  In three years only one person has ever come out of The Shimmer.  That person is Kane, who is now in a coma dying.

The Shimmer has been growing for three years and no one is closer to finding out what exactly it is.  Ventress sends out team after team only to find that she gets no answers back.  Now Ventress herself is heading a small team into The Shimmer comprised of all women: physicist Josie (Tessa Thompson), geologist Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), and paramedic Anya (Gina Rodriguez).  Lena wants to join the expedition.  She figures if she goes in and figures out what goes inside maybe she can help her husband upon her return.  But the rest of the team knows that they are basically going on a suicide mission.  The mission is actually to get to a lighthouse where some sort of meteor from space hit and where The Shimmer seemed to start from.

So in the five go.  What they find inside is a world that is changing.  Growing.  Not being destroyed but perhaps becoming truly uninhabitable for humans.  Time does not work inside The Shimmer as it does outside.  Minutes inside can be days outside.  The Shimmer also plays with your mind.  The characters become unsure of how they get somewhere and unsure of each other.  There’s danger at every turn.  Aliens?  Nope not quite.  It’s the changes that this world is going through that makes everything so dangerous.

All the women are carrying M-16s but no one seems truly trained to use them except Lena.  She seems to know exactly how to hold the weapon and get into good positions to obtain a maximum kill shot.  I was really happy with the way Natalie Portman looked handling the rifle.  I mean she’s been in a billion films and has probably been firing firearms going all the way back to The Professional, but she really looked the part in this film.

So what happens?  Does the movie give us answers?  Of course it does.  Did the movie freak me out?  Hell yeah it did.  There is one scene alone that is immensely vicious and actually made me want to turn away.  It was brilliant beyond belief.  The actors were decent – it was great seeing Jennifer Jason Leigh on the big screen – but Portman carries the film here.  Some costars may disagree with me, but her character has a great balance to her.  She carries that balance through the film as if something is special about her.  I tried to come up with several theories of what would become of the character throughout the film but I was nowhere near correct on anything.  I’m glad about that.  There was no way to see what was coming.

The movie is based on a trilogy of books by Jeff VanderMeer.  I’m not sure how much of the trilogy went into Annihilation and if it was just based on the first book or took parts from all three.  The last twenty seconds of this movie had me wondering about that because of the way this flick ended.  If the movie only covers the first book I may have to pick up this trilogy tonight to find out what happens next.  I was very drawn into this story and really loved this world.  Something tells me it may have had parts of all three of the books, but I just hope it didn’t.

Writer/Director Alex Garland hit a home run.  When I watched his first directorial effort Ex Machina I wasn’t too crazy about it.  With further views the film got better and better.  I didn’t feel this from Annihilation because I liked it from the start.  Some warned me it was a slow start.  I felt that Annihilation was very well paced.  It showed off the characters, showed off the situation, then brought everything together wonderfully.  Ex Machina was up for multiple awards while I bet Annihilation won’t get anywhere near the same notice – if any at all.  Why?  Because of Paramount’s wonderful strategy of basically dumping this movie.  It’s bullshit.  It is utter bullshit.  What can sci-fi people do?  If you are reading this and love sci-fi get out to your local theater and support this film.  Because without mid-range films like these we are all just going to be sitting around watching countless Marvel and Star Wars films that are going to be “the funniest one ever!”

That also brings me to another point where I go back and forth on The Last Jedi.  This film had 5 female characters.  Each were powerful, each had personalities, each had a mind of their own, and each felt needed for the plot.  The Last Jedi female characters felt shoehorned – like we were supposed to care about them just because they are in a Star Wars movie.  I thought Rose was great but that Holdo character was complete garbage.  The point here is the characters of Garland’s film are very well written.  It’s great sci-fi.  The Last Jedi is the latest chapter of the Disney Star Wars saga and is just made to rake in a billion bucks.  But compare Oscar Isaac’s role in both films and judge them solely on the character, the motivation, and the acting.  Annihilation Oscar runs circles around Last Jedi Oscar.

This review turned slightly into a rant…that I’m not going to bother editing.  Look – if you love sci-fi (with a twinge of horror) then go see this film.  It is pretty much a no-brainer.  You can see it on Netflix six months from now or whatever but that isn’t supporting getting great sci-fi to the big screen.  This is a big smart sexy scary film.  One that speaks to filmgoers on so many levels.  Get out there and see it.  You won’t regret it.  I really didn’t.


Props to my bud Brandon Norwood telling me to get out and see this film.  You can read Brandon’s review here: and check out his blog for more amazing movie reviews.

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