‘Annihilation’ all shimmer no substance

by Tim English on February 25, 2018

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Down]

Annihilation is the first serious gut-punch-disappointment of 2018. I wanted to like this movie. I really, really did. First of all, it literally spoils the ending in the first seven fucking seconds of the movie. And while it poses some interesting question and is dazzling to the eye, it never really makes sense, nor does it excuse itself for spoiling the uninteresting ending.

So this “shimmer” appears when a meteor or something hits near a lighthouse on the east coast. It creates this trippy little bubble that begins to swell and consume towns. They’ve been sending teams of soldiers and scientists in but no one is coming out. Apparently the U.S. Government is able to keep this a secret for three years…until someone finally does come out, Kane (Oscar Isaac), a former Army Ranger, who is married to our heroine, Lena (Natalie Portman), formerly with the Army and currently a biologist who realizes something is fucked with her husband.

Naturally, she wants to find out what happened to her husband so she sets out on a secret suicide mission with an all female team of scientists, doctors and surveyors into the shimmer, because it makes sense to just keep sending folks in when you can’t communicate and no one is coming back and the only one who did is coughing up blood when he’s not in a coma. But hey, they have to know if something killed the or if everyone went crazy and killed each other. Why not just keep sending teams in wave after wave?

Inside the shimmer, aka Area X, nothing makes sense. Time shifts in a nonlinear pattern causing days to past and feel like mere moments. Life is evolving and seemingly crossbreeding with whatever alien force is feeding off the Earth’s environment. But that’s about as far as this idea is taken. The movie teeters between an existential mind fuck and a straight up horror movie but it doesn’t fully invest itself enough to be either very convincingly.

What the hell is up with Natalie Portman? Can she act? I mean, it’s obvious she’s a highly trained actress, but dammit if she rarely comes off as natural. This is highlighted early on when she labors through a scene in which a simple lecture to her biology class about evolution comes off as a rehearsed monologue. Then we’re supposed to believe she was also a solider? It just feels off. And her character’s motivations seem to shift dramatically thanks to a “where the hell is this coming from?” twist to her marriage that feels like it’s trying to distract us from the fact that the main plot line isn’t going to come to a satisfying end.

The rest of the characters, including Jennifer Jason-Leigh and Tessa Thompson (Thor Ragnarok), don’t fare much better, either because the script doesn’t give them much to do or when they are involved it all feels a little flat, forced, and cliched.

Writer and director Alex Garland, who previously delivered the underrated masterpiece Ex Machina, struggles to find the right balance between the thought-provoking themes he’s peppered into his script and the jarringly out of place horror elements. But it’s yet another movie that seems to have a great concept and some spectacular visuals, but yet no idea how to make it all make sense.

The film is adapted from a novel by Jeff VanderMeer. It’s one I haven’t read, but I have to assume by the disappointing delivery of what seems to be an intriguing concept, there’s more to the book than makes the silver screen adaptation.

But dammit…I wanted to love this movie. So, I waited to write my review. Hoping I’d mull over some forgotten detail that would shed some light or I’d have some euphoric moment where I suddenly understood a part of life I didn’t quite understand before. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the answers aren’t there.

But as it is, Annihilation is a bit of a misguided mess. It’s fun to look at and shows signs of promise early on, but once the shine wears off, it’s clear there’s no substance below the surface.

Writer. Ad Man. Jedi. Sometimes people ask for my opinion on movies. Sometimes they agree. Member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Creator and voice of the Reel Hooligans podcast. Find us on iTunes. Board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and founder of the Terror on the Plains Horror Festival.

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