This article has very mild spoilers.
“Annihilation” starts off slow. Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist and professor at John Hopkins University is reunited 12 months with her army husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) 12 months after his mission. Shortly after, he suffers from a major seizure. Lena is taken to a facility where she learns about Kane’s mission and a growing threat to humanity. She joins the next mission led by psychologist Dr. Vandress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to uncover truths about the threat and her husband’s mission. Joining Lena and Dr. Vandress are three other volunteers: Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Cass (Tuva Novotny), and Josie (Tessa Thompson).
There are a few monstrous scares here and there, but the real horror lies around the team and in the tension that’s building around them. As they push farther down their mission, they encounter things they’ve never seen before: some beautiful, and some truly horrible. The threat is extraterrestrial in nature and seeks to change evolution on earth as we know it. It begins to consume them, physically, psychologically, and emotionally. And this is where things get interesting.
“Annihilation”‘s does not exploit its fair share of blood and gore to simply give audiences chills, but uses it to emphasize the magnitude of the problem. The horror isn’t just outside. It can affect you physically. It can be in your blood. The characters are brought to the edge by this realisation. “Annihilation” doesn’t strike ghostly fear, it strikes terror in its purest and most potent form.
The film’s main highlight occurs near the end when Lena finally discovers what happened to Kane and where the threat resides. What follows is an encounter that is so shocking, so fantastic, and so terrifying that it deserves to be in cinema’s top ten lists of sci-fi thriller moments. That scene joins “Odishon” and “Gone Girl”‘s climaxes in my list of most visceral movie moments. They use sound minimally throughout the film but amps it up during this encounter. Never did electronica sound so good.
Natalie Portman shines brightly in her performance as Lena. She is a quiet force throughout the film, ably displaying a wide range of emotions underneath a calm exterior. Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of Kane is as subtly powerful as Portman is. Jennifer Jason Leigh is effective as the stoic, brutal yet very human Dr. Vandress. Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, and Tessa Thompson are also exceptional in their portrayal of supporting actors.
Alex Garland’s cinematic adaptation of Jeff Vandermeer’s novel of the same name wins not just in terms of the narrative, storytelling but also visual effects. “Annihilation” is such a breathtaking visual feast that there are moments that make you forget that you’re watching a quiet psychological sci-fi horror film. That kind of beauty was evident even when the film was shockingly terrifying.
“Annihilation” is everything a genre film could be. It’s a terrifying and compelling masterpiece set against a background of brilliant technical filmmaking. It can even go as far as winning an Emmy, a SAG, or perhaps even an Oscar for Natalie Portman’s acting. I highly recommend watching this film. And if it’s possible for you to watch it in theatres – the better.
(Cover photo courtesy of Annihilation official Facebook page)