I put Alex Garland on my radar in 2015 after seeing "Ex Machina." It's a movie I hold dear to my heart. Actually, I really loved it. Ever since the 1970's ended, it seemed like the genre of science fiction dumbed itself down. It was a backdrop for action movies. Or there were some lame retooling of classic tales of the genre. Sadly, it seemed like the really intelligent days of science fiction were over. Even films like "Minority Report," which I fucking love by the way, was a fairly watered down version of what it could have been. It seemed like Alex Garland came out of nowhere with "Ex Machina." A near-perfect blend of special effects and smart storytelling, put together with a cast that knocked each role out of the park.
With Alex Garland, it feels like I walked into a time machine and came back out in the 1970s. "Annihilation" clearly wasn't everyone's cup of tea. It hasn't necessarily wowed people at the box office. I do kind of hate it when I go ga-ga over a movie I know won't be for everyone. But when I sat down to formulate a movie blog, I knew I had to be honest every single time I sat down to write. So know there is a place of deep passion from my heart when I say that "Annihilation" is another homerun for Garland. Once again, Garland puts together a great cast including Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez. Once again, he forms images with some of the most awesome, cutting-edge special effects. There are scenes in this movie that are so breath-taking that the visual effects could be Oscar-worthy again. Also once more, Garland puts together an amazing story intertwined with brains and bombast. But I will say, its definitely not an easy sit through.
Look, "Annihilation" hit Netflix in literally every other country except the United States. I have no idea what compelled Paramount to decide to give it a box office run here in the USA, but I am kind of glad they tried. I would take an ambitious film not connected to a bigger franchise then the billionth sequel or another remake of a remake, kinda like what we have now. It shows that creativity still is aloud to thrive in this business. Yes, "Annihilation" was a novel apparently, but from what I've read, Alex Garland made more of a reaction to the novel, instead of a straight adaptation. If by the offhand, you have read the book, get ready. Because apparently know the book and watching this movie are two totally different circumstances.
Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist who teaches biology at an unnamed university. She is deeply haunted by the sudden disappearance of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), who works for the Army Special Forces, went on an abrupt mission, then disappeared for almost an entire year. She misses him desperately and she was given little information about what happened to him. What's even stranger though, is when Kane abruptly comes back home. He appears disoriented about what happened to him, and it certainly doesn't help when he suddenly has a seizure and he and Lena are taken to Area X. What is Area X? Its a military in the southern pacific United States. It oversees what has been dubbed The Shimmer, which is a huge energy surrounding a site where a meteor hit. The United States has sent teams into The Shimmer to research it, and none of them have come back, except Kane. Lena is determined to find out what The Shimmer holds, and she along with psychologist Dr. Ventress (Leigh), paramedic Anya (Rodriguez), physicist Josie (Thompson) and geologist/surveyor Cass (Tuva Novotny) all go into The Shimmer.
My wife and I will be having our first child this summer. We decided to find out the sex of the baby and it has been deduced that we will be having a girl. I don't plan on pushing my interest on my child, but for how many movies I watch and comics I read, and how much TV and books my wife digests in a given year, there is no denying it. I think our child will be wired to entertainment in some form. This is quite the time to born into the world of movies. Where it seems we are starting to see strong female leads that girls can look up to. Even in family films like "Brave," "Moana," "Big Hero Six" and even "Frozen." Women in film aren't just damsels in distress, women aren't just people that the hero needs to save. We are seeing strong female leads pop up more often, and while Hollywood still has lots to change in its treatment of women, we are on a good path. I don't know if my daughter will be as movie-crazy as I am, and if she is, I don't know if she'll even be remotely interested in a movie like this. But I like the idea of an all-women group trying to figure out the mystery of the movie. I especially like how the marketing treated it like an organic thing, instead a publicity stunt. There is already a long list of movies I can't wait to show my daughter and movies featuring strong females roles is a great thing for the future of entertainment.
Things get really weird though once the Lena and her team enter The Shimmer. It seems whatever was contained in the meteor that hit, its alive and its growing from the hole it left in the Earth. It's also starting to affect the team. I've always been fascinating by aliens and I've always loved aliens in popular culture. Instead of watching cartoons every morning on Saturday, I watched "Independence Day." I was glued to the TV anytime "X-Files" was on. The alien invasion movies that really go to me though, were movies like "Signs," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and even "The Faculty." If aliens invaded us tomorrow, I don't know if we'd see flying saucers, and shootings and I don't know if we'd have full-scale battles on Earth's soil. Somehow I believe we'd see an "invasion" in the form of what we saw here. Even though I am not entirely convinced that what we see in this movie is a straight-up invasion. Part of the reason why this film will be frustrating to the casual viewer is how its structured. I know many people who hate having to project a piece of themselves onto a film in order to understand its outcome. But if you like challenging, adventurous science fiction, you owe it to yourself to see this.
Natalie Portman has always been a really good actress, and I think she deserved the Oscar she got a few years back. She once again turns out a great leading performance here. We feel her characters emotions, we know she's haunted pretty much throughout every minute of this film's running time. I had a little laugh whenever Portman and Thompson were together onscreen, and if you are a fan of "Thor," you know why. Portman plays a haunted character, but Jennifer Jason Leigh straight-up plays a haunting person. Her work as Dr. Ventress is so oddly strange that she actually kind of creeped me out. As did the work by Oscar Isaac. These haunted characters are living in a bleak world. They are looking at an organism that is looking directly through us because, compared to them, we matter very little to the larger universe. It's a sad discovery, and the characters somewhat comprehend that by the end of the film.
I wouldn't bag on anyone who walks out of "Annihilation" not knowing what the hell they just watched. But this is definitely a film I'll watch quite a bit. A movie I will probably be pulling apart for clues and puzzle pieces for the rest of my life. Alex Garland has solidified his place as the real deal when it comes to science fiction. I'm sure you will too if you check this out. You'll be glad if you do. I never thought I'd see a movie in my lifetime that I could compare to "2001," and I am still not sure I can do that with "Annihilation," but boy does it come close.
FINAL GRADE: A+