What a strange, beautiful movie.
Annihilation is the story of a biologist named Lena who enters a mysterious (and quarantined) alien zone to uncover its true nature. To reveal any more about the film would be a huge disservice, because this is a bizarre yet captivating journey which director Alex Garland lets unfold in very unexpected ways. In fact, I haven’t stopped thinking about the film since I watched it; its themes are complex, and its exploration of humanity is uniquely layered. Much like Interstellar and Arrival (two admittedly superior films), Annihilation is a sci-fi film that really gets you thinking.
As the heroine at the center of our story, Natalie Portman is just exceptional. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was this impressed by the actress, but she handles her protagonist’s many layers with a whole lot of skill. The film’s primary theme is mankind’s innate desire to self-destruct, and Portman taps into that insight beautifully. It helps that the film’s cinematography (bravo Rob Hardy) is absolutely ravishing. The alien zone (known as “The Shimmer”) is breathtakingly brought to life through a spectrum of colorful lights and stunning landscapes. It’s all very dreamlike and mesmerizing.
Somewhat uneven is Portman’s supporting cast. Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny are all terrific as her teammates, but Jennifer Jason Leigh is completely miscast as the team’s psychologist. The actress delivered awkward turns on both Revenge and Atypical, and she’s equally misplaced here. She’s certainly the film’s most glaring weakness.
A warning: if you like your movies with clear-cut answers, you might want adjust your expectations. Annihilation leaves things very ambiguous by the end of its running time, and that’s part of the reason why its narrative will haunt you for a long time to come. I’ve spent the last 24 hours reading countless theories about the film’s conclusion, and it’s been a long but satisfying experience.
A bold and inventive sci-fi tale with a multidimensional script and a superb performance by Natalie Portman.