Thursday, September 6, 2018

Movie Review: Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation (2018) written and directed by Alex Garland based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer

Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biology professor whose missing husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) inexplicably turns up. He's a military man who disappeared while on a secret assignment a year ago. He just shows up at their home and is very disoriented and uncommunicative. She discovers he's bleeding and calls the paramedics. The ambulance trip to the hospital is hijacked by big black government cars. Turns out Kane was part of a government investigation of The Shimmer, a zone of reality distortion that has been slowly spreading outward from a meteorite that crashed into an isolated lighthouse. The government hushed it up and has been sending teams in to investigate for three years. No one has ever come back. Until Kane. He's in a comatose state. Lena meets a group of scientists (all female) who are about to go in for another try at discovering what is going on. Lena joins the group in hopes of finding answers about her husband's condition.

Well, they discover a lot more questions before there are any answers. The Shimmer contains a lot of beautiful and semi-explanable phenomenon. It also has a lot of dangerous, seemingly-crossbred animals in it. The more the team discovers, the less they understand and the more they are freaked out. The group does slowly fall apart and the suspense is in whether Lena will be able to find out what happened to her husband and how she can help him. If she can even make it back out.

The movie is slow and thoughtful, with some very intense action and horror moments. It touches on themes of identity, evolution, and the need to know versus the need to survive. I like how the film doesn't provide any pat answers. It lets viewers work out a reasonable theory as the characters struggle to do the same. The actors do a good job selling both the wonder and the horror of the situation.

On the other hand, I did catch myself wondering why they don't just turn back several times. The characters deal with the issue in a semi-believable way, but what about all the other expeditions? Shouldn't some group have gone in for just an hour or a day and come back with at least some information? Lena's group does run across some information from her husband's group, but what about other groups who have gone in? The movie isn't as convincing as it could be.

The movie is from the same writer/director of Ex Machina and definitely shares many similarities. I think Ex Machina is the better film. Even so, how much you like it will help you gage whether you'll like this film or not.

Recommended for those interested in a bit of a challenge.

Parental Warning: This movie is a fairly hard R rating. There's plenty of profanity and some intense and gory images. Also, two characters have sex without nudity but they are also married to others.

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