Rousing its fair share of controversy over Paramount Studios’ decision to release it to streaming service Netflix the world over (save for North America and China) instead of in cinemas for which it was initially intended, Alex Garland‘s ambitious Annihilation is certainly a unique production for such a risk-adverse studio.
Whilst there’s a certain arthouse quality to the film, it’s evident Garland wanted this to be seen on the big screen. It’s a shame it wasn’t backed more confidently as this is a seriously intelligent, and visually stunning, picture that benefits from its bold structure and dedicated female cast.
If you can enter Annihilation void of spoilers you’ll be well rewarded with an in-depth mystery which unravels in the most unexpected of ways. On the surface Garland would have you believe his feature isn’t far removed from John Carpenter’s The Thing, but there’s a darker, more cerebral journey travelled as Natalie Portman‘s concerned biologist Lena seeks out answers as to why her husband (Oscar Isaac) has returned from a government facility a noticeably changed being; his speech and gaze somewhat stunted.
There’s a slow burn implemented as the audience is granted the time to familiarise themselves with the quintet of women (Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and an against-type Jennifer Jason-Leigh fill out the remaining roles) sent into the mysterious governed zone, referred to as “The Shimmer”, as they search for scientific answers to questions they may not be willing to ask; the film suggests the life-force that inhabits the zone is equipped in ways to drive any of its dwellers insane.
Whilst the ultimate climax of the film veers into some strange territory (and allegedly was the catalyst for Paramount being spooked into thinking it wouldn’t translate to mainstream audiences) there’s nothing overtly confusing enough for it to be deemed non-cinema worthy; as unintelligble as some movie goers are, there’s enough intelligent folk out there that would lap this up and ponder on it for days.
Though the monetary return from the U.S. Box Office hasn’t exactly set things ablaze, hopefully streaming figures prove viable enough so that the remaining chapters in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, for which Annihilation is the first title, earn enough interest to be adapted. This is smart, unique storytelling that deserves to be seen in any format available to you.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Annihilation hits Netflix on 12th March 2018 in all territories outside the US and Canada.