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Annihilation (2018) – Directed by Alex Garland

It's like they're stuck in a continuous mutation.”



When 2018 started, I got wind of a new Natalie Portman sci-fi movie called Annihilation. When I first heard of this movie, I was careful about reception. I was impressed with the reviews when the reviews finally came out, but worried it would turn into an Alien copy like 2017's Life. Instead what I got was a beautifully rendered, smartly written, genuine sci-fi modern classic that boasts one of Natalie Portman's finest performances. This may be one of my favorite sci-fi movies.

Annihilation is the mindful mystery about a female scientist who ventures into some strange alternate reality called “the Shimmer,” where her soldier husband ventured a year beforehand with his team and was the only one who survived the trip. As she ventures into this estranged world where everything feels, and may very well be, rewritten, their own physical limits and samity are put to the test. And it doesn't help there are monsters around.

This film is a lot like Russian art-house director Andrey Tarkovsky's three-hour slow cinema epic, Stalker. In that film, three men venture into another world full of alternate realms that are always changing. And the evaluation of the mind is a key factor to how events play out in Annihilation as well. Stalker was the movie that got me interested in psychological films. And psychological evaluation that applies to an entire world's full structure is the real premise of Annihilation.

Although the movie gets pretty interesting from the get-go, the movie has several flashbacks which don't seem to play all that much of a role into the current story of venturing into the Shimmer and finding out what that craziness inside is all about. These flashbacks usually revolve around the events surrounding Natlie Portman (or Lena) and her husband kane before Kane's departure into the Shimmer, and they don't add very much to the story that connects or displays any great amount of mental evaluation. So there's the main complaint about the movie, besides it taking a slow half-hour after a great introductory half-hour.

And despite the psyche of the film, there's very little character development in the film. That's a leading criticism I have for 2001: A Space Odyssey, a similar but far more well-developed sci-fi story. I don't even remember all of the names of the characters. They all felt one-sided. And the dialogue needs some touching up on when diving into more personal levels, as if the dialogue was just there to tell the story.

My final criticism is the quality of the music. Much of the time, this mostly ambient soundtrack didn't add much to the creepy aura of the film, or it felt unoriginal. And sometimes, it took an electronic sound which only made me think, “What do they think this is? A Daft Punk mixtape?”

However, the psychological evaluation of an entire landscape, and how it affects minds, is something very interesting and gripping in a sci-fi movie. Stalker made mentions of how its own special place woks, but spent more time on evaluating characters themselves while travelling through the landscapes. Annihilation tackles both at once, and carries amazing scientific explanations for impossible things happening in the Shimmer. Another great thing about the psyche of the movie is how these evaluations tie into the plot twists, making the thought-process of the people and the world put together more gripping, as if the whole idea is to try and see into the character's minds.

Along with the story comes amazing visual landscapes and effects where stunning. The slow cinematography may hinder things a little bit occasionally, but is also an essential part of the movie when necessary. Slowly moving across beautifully developed landscapes with incredibly realistic but original looking flora and fauna, the movie very much like Stalker in that manner as well. One should watch the movie just to see the visuals if they don't like psychological mumbo-jumbo, because the plant-life, the sky, and the animals are all breathtaking. However, this may also be seen as a fault, because it's apparent after the first half of the movie that visuals were taken into account much more than character, especially considering that the film traded decent explanation of the fates of a couple characters for visual spectacle, leading to an anti-climactic “battle” at the end.


Finally, let me add that the acting is great. Natalie Portman gives one of her most emotional performances I've ever seen. Sometimes I forget what a talented actress she can be. So Annihilation helps prove than Natalie Portman isn't all Star Wars, and is really much more essential to sci-fi in general, especially when you include Mars Attacks and Thor. I also greatly enjoyed the acting of Gina Rodriguez as the strong-willed Anya who eventually starts to go insane.

I can easily see Annihilation being considered a modern sci-fi classic. It's got visuals like nothing I've ever seen. However, if it had more character development for a focus, it would have been a better movie than Stalker, which I'm convinced is a thematic source of influence. It's still something that should be definitely seen. Again, amazing visuals, wonderful story that takes the entire world itself into account, and great acting. Lame music, not enough character development, a little ant-climactic. Take these pros and cons into account as you will, but I'd say this will be seen as one of the best sci-fi movies of 2018, and I honest6ly believe it's one of Natalie Portman's finest movies.