Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson
Director: Alex Garland
Runtime: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Based upon the novel by Jeff VanderMeer
Adventure | Drama | Fantasy | Novel | 2018
So many things I want to say, but finding the words is going to be hard. Mostly because I’m still shocked after watching this movie from the strangeness of it. And to warn you, this entire post will have spoilers, because I can’t write this review without talking about everything that happened in the film. So if you want to be surprised, please read this after you’ve seen the movie already. Or if you don’t want to read the entire movie synopsis from start to end, I would skip this one too. It’s going to be long.
Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist who has lost her husband to war… so she thinks. He returns home with some sort of ailment, and during the ambulance transport, a secret government team comes and collects them. At Area X (that’s what this place is called) she discovers that her husband went into this thing they called THE SHIMMER (where did they come up with this? It’s not in the book), a place where no one returns from. So basically she decides to go in with a team of other women scientists to find answers.
This movie is based on a science fiction novel written by Jeff VanderMeer. I read most of the book before going into this screening, but that probably wasn’t a good idea. I should have not read it at all, or finished it. Now that I’ve finished it after the fact, I have some things I’d like to compare and complain about (typical for a book to film transition right? Except for maybe Fifty Shade of Grey which follows the book’s dialogue to a tee).
Book: There are no character names, each person is described by the biologist as their occupations. The occupations in the book are not the same as in the film, so it was hard for me to bridge the two stories. All the world knows about Area X and it had been many decades before the Biologist (Lena in the film) goes into. She knows her husband went into it and later he died of cancer. The book has a more psychological aspect to it. Not knowing what is real and what is not. Is there a conspiracy? You are never given a description (the characters never see) any of the creatures lurking around them. No one dies by jungle creatures and the ending/cliff -hanger is completely different.
Film: The Southern Reach is keeping this shimmer a secret, calling in a chemical spill or something. Lena thought her husband was on a secret military mission and had no idea that the shimmer even existed. Once inside, the things that happen are not as abstract as the book makes it seem. You see a hybrid alligator, you see a hybrid wolf/warthog, etc. The film is very graphic and very bloody and very strange. Where are the living words? I’m assuming the entity in the end is being considered the Crawler?
Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Dr. Ventress, the psychologist and leader of the mission. She has a strange connection to what is happening, and will finish the mission even if it means her life. In the book, she hypnotizes the team and seems to be behind a bigger picture. But in the movie, she just wants answers and is driven to get them.
I would say that Natalie Portman isn’t bad in here role, but the supporting characters (Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny) are just blah. Not really adding much to the story other than being brutally murdered by carnivorous jungle creatures… like the ones in The Hunger Games, but a lot scarier and a lot more ugly. Okay, one of them just turns into a plant. And that part of the movie a liked. The horror part of it, the team trying to stay alive and get to the lighthouse.
Oh yes the lighthouse… it wasn’t the biggest deal in the book from what I was reading. There was another structure, the tower (which is where most of the action takes place), that held all the strange symbiotic creatures that started changing humans into a different species or a hybrid species → this was explained in the movie to be a crossing of DNA’s which I found to be perfectly acceptable for a science fiction film and for the most part was my favorite aspect of the entire movie. I wish it would have been part of the book. Actually I wish the book gave more answers that it does.
Once Lena got to the lighthouse, everything was just creepy/strange/omg to watch. I can’t even describe it. WTF Lena, why would you go down in that creepy hole? And why does the psychologist die like that? The entire scenes with them in the lighthouse I couldn’t handle. I will however, give the filmmakers some kudos here. It was so completely interesting to watch yet so completely terrifying and I don’t even know why I felt like this! I can say without a doubt that this was the weirdest movie I have ever seen, and I thought Life and Prometheus were weird. Annihilation just blows those out of the water by far.
Another thing I want to say. The title Annihilation doesn’t really work for the movie. Yes, the psychologist screams it right before she turns into a F@#$ing black hole or whatever, but it has absolutely no merit in the film. You see, in the book, the term was used as a hypnotic suggestion to trigger the team to commit suicide. Makes sense if you’ve read the book, because basically she did just that in the movie. Now you know the meaning behind the title. I feel like they could have changed that for the film though right?
I wonder if they will continue the films as VanderMeer continued the books. It seems like that opened it up in the end for a maybe next movie, but I for one do not know if it’s going to make very much money in the box office. It’s so far out there, that I’m thinking it might be one of those movies that gathers a cult following while everyone else just shoots down it’s spirits.
The filmography itself I felt like was great to watch. Everything has somewhat of a “shimmer” and was colored rainbow. It totally played into the idea of it being a prism. I also liked the foliage and flowers that were everywhere, making the cross DNA come to life and making the screen look beautiful yet terrifying at the same time. A lot of the time that they were walking through the fields of long grass I kept thinking of this short story that David had me read once. I was kind of hoping that would happen because that’d be great for this type of movie.
Hmm… do you think I have talked enough? I honestly don’t know what to rate this movie. On one hand, the first 75% of the movie I found to be awesome. The cat and mouse, tense, and horrific storyline. The last 25% was awesome to watch visually, but made me feel uneasy. I’m surprised I didn’t have any weird dreams. I would have loved to share those with you. I know I’ve probably used the words “weird” and “strange” a lot in this post, but I can’t think of a better word to describe this movie. I definitely didn’t hate it. Not sure I loved it. It’s probably on the border between Liked It and Okay… I just can’t decide if I would watch it again or not. Probably would because it was so bizarre (omg a new word!) that I can’t NOT watch it again. Okay… “Liked It.” But I think the more psychological aspects would have pushed it to a Loved It had they been in the movie (3.5/5).
"If that boy were an apple, he'd be a delicious"
follow me on Twitter and Instagram @shanschltz