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Josh Reviews Annihilation

I have a huge amount of love for Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina, which he also wrote.  If you haven’t seen that film, I exhort you to track it down immediately.  It’s a riveting piece of speculative fiction, with extraordinary performances by Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, and Domhnall Gleeson.  I was excited to see Mr. Garland’s follow-up film, Annihilation, which he also wrote (adapting the novel by Jeff VanderMeer) and directed.  From the trailers, Annihilation looked like a larger-scale production than Ex Machina.  I was curious to see what Mr. Garland would do with a larger canvas (and budget) at his disposal.

I was concerned, though, by reports of behind-the-scenes trouble before the film’s release.  Apparently a poor test screening gave Skydance production (who co-financed the film along with Paramount) cold feet, and eventually the worldwide release for the film was truncated and certain distribution rights were sold to Netflix.  More details are here.  Mr. Garland expressed some disappointment at the Netflix deal, since he’d made the film to be seen in cinemas (but that’s a better result than the film getting re-edited over his objection).

After all this tumult, and after seeing wildly mixed reviews for the film, I was very curious to finally get to see it myself!

Immediately, I can see why this film had some people worried.  It’s a very bizarre film, and it does not unfold in the audience-pleasing manner that most wide-release sci-fi films do.

I’m somewhat lukewarm on the film myself.  There is a lot that I like about the film.  I respect the ambition of this cerebral story, and I love the cast of fantastic women.  It’s a gripping film, but in the end I didn’t feel the story came together the way that I’d hoped that a mystery-based film like this would.

This is a very different type of story than Ex Machina, but what the two films have in common is that both are very intellectual pieces of science fiction.  These are not shoot-em-up action-adventure sci-fi films.  Both are stories that begin in our “real” world and explore, thoughtfully and logically, what might unfold in the face of specific spectacular occurrences.  (I consider both films to be more speculative fiction than science fiction.)  But whereas Ex Machina was very contained — most of the scenes in the film are conversations between two characters, set in indoor rooms — Annihilation is a more expansive story.

Natalie Portman stars as Lena.  As the film opens, her military husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) has been missing for a year.  One day Kane unexpectedly shows up at their house, but he has been mysteriously changed.  As Lena digs into what befell … [continued]