Writer and director Alex Garland returns to the chair for the second time to bring us the most visually
stunning movie of 2018 thus far with Annihilation, based on the novel of the same name by Jeff
VanderMeer. However, is there more style than substance?
Annihilation opens to former army grunt turned scientist Lena (Natalie Portman), giving a science lecture at
University. Her boyfriend Kane, played by Oscar Isaac, has been missing for an entire year after going on
a secret military expedition to an unknown location. With no warning or phone call, he returns,
surprising Lena. However, he becomes violently ill, and is immediately transported, along with Lena, to a
secret military style medical installation and the couple are quarantined. Lena learns that another
expedition of scientists are being sent in to this artificially created dimension of illuminated pseudo-
space they call The Shimmer, and insists that she go along to find out what happened to her husband.
Before long, they find that their communication and navigation equipment is non-functional, and their
memories cannot account for several days after entering the Shimmer. They press on, hoping to find the
cause of the Shimmer before they meet the same fate as the other teams.
The use of visuals and cinematography in this movie was truly amazing. The dimension of the shimmer is
characterized by refractions of light, sounds, and even nature itself on a genetic level. For example,
there are multiple typically genetically separate plants growing on the same stalk, like roses and orchids
growing out of a tree. As a result, there are legitimately beautiful albeit sometimes jarring images.
There are also subtle uses of camera to get some of the story’s finer points across; such as having a lot
of the extras behind glass or plastic when Lena is being interviewed by the lead physician, putting the
characters behind panes of glass or in front of a mirror, or even positioning a glass of water so that the
images of the characters are distorted. The Shimmer is a visually refractory dimension, but even when
the story isn’t taking place there, the camera work is playing with your visual perception of what is on
the screen, sub-consciously telling you that what you are seeing may not necessarily be what is real.
The only issue to be taken with the story is the manner in which it is told. Normally, there is nothing
wrong with having a story being told in a non-linear fashion, especially considering it is likely deliberate
for a film whose narrative is largely intentionally designed to be perceptively jarring. However, by
creating a retroactive narrative – namely having Lena explain to a team of doctors after the fact – it
removes suspense and investment. For those who enjoy reading the end of a book first this might not be
a problem, but for the rest of us, there is an element in spoiling the film by having it told this way.
The dialogue in the film, sadly, does also leave something to be desired. Although there isn’t an official
counter on it set, don’t be surprised if film critic satirists don’t have an “I don’t know” counter when the
film is brought to Netflix later this year. Understandably, there is going to be some ambiguity when
dealing with the film’s subject matter, but without definitive answers, leaves the audience wanting.
Annihilation is everything that a movie needs to be – visually stimulating enough to keep you focused on
the screen, characters that are engaging enough to keep you emotionally invested in them as they
progress through their respective arcs, and a story that is appealing and interesting with enough twists
to keep the audience guessing, but not having so many that it becomes impossible to follow the plot.
The film has it in spades, particularly being visually amazing and great acting on the part of the cast to
keep you moving forward.
By, Daniel Kester