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Annihilation (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 14, 2020



Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, David Gyasi, Sonoya Mizuno, Tuva Novotny, Angela Holmes, Edward Mannering, John Schwab, Crystal Clarke, Kola Bokinni, Sammy Hayman, Josh Danford, Kristen McGarrity, Annarie Boor, Helena Holmes, Honey Holmes, Cosmo Jarvis and Odette Michell.

Screenplay by Alex Garland.

Directed by Alex Garland.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 120 minutes. Rated R.

You would not expect for a movie with a spectacular visual sense, some intriguing story ideas, some cool plot twists, an intriguing cast and several mysterious monsters to be dull.

But, here you go.

Annihilation wants to be so much better – so much deeper, so much more exciting – than it ends up being. In fact, it turns out to be a slow-moving mish-mash of sci-fi clichés, jump scares and pseudo-philosophical claptrap. It’s sort of like Arrival light.

What a waste.

If Annihilation put as much thought into its storyline as it did into its art direction, it might be something special. Instead, it’s an aesthetically beautiful film that honestly ends up not making all that much sense. It wants to blow your mind, but instead it mostly just blows your time.

It’s too bad, because it starts out pretty well.

Natalie Portman plays Lena, a former Army officer turned science professor, who is in mourning for her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), who has been missing and assumed dead for a year because of some shadowy military expedition. One day, when she is moping alone in her home, he shows up, barely talking, refusing to discuss where he has been and what happened. Then he says he doesn’t feel well and starts spitting up blood. He is taken to a hospital in an ambulance, but on the way there they are stopped by mysterious government agents, who knock Lena out and take Kane to a secret facility.

When Lena wakes at the facility, she meets Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who tells her that her husband is being treated. He has been in a strange new dimension, a section of a local town which has been consumed by “The Shimmer,” a strange rip in the environment which seems to be breeding odd mutated lifeforms – both animal and plant. If Lena joins Dr. Ventress and three other (Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny) women to explore the world inside the shimmer, perhaps they can find a way to heal her husband.

Of course, the chances are that it will be a suicide mission, but the women enter this new bizarro world to find what is happening.

The problem is, as spectacular as this odd new universe is artistically, the story runs out of steam long before the film comes to an end. The further we get into the explanation of the inner workings of the new world, the more ridiculous things become. So, by the time we reach the climax, it has become just kind of silly.

Director Garland seems to like Stephen King – there are aspects of such books as The Dark Tower, Under the Dome and the current Sleeping Beauties peeking out in some of the plot points – but he does not seem to have King’s skill as a pulp storyteller.

Credit where it is due, though. Annihilation looks spectacular. Some of its visual effects – like human-shaped plants, crystal trees, a half sunken boathouse and a vine-entangled lighthouse – truly are amazing. I just wish this incredible CGI skill was used at the service of a more coherent storyline.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: February 22, 2018.

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