Annihilation – Review

The ever-growing power of Netflix and it’s global domination in the film industry has caused us to question everything we know about movie viewing. Coming from a demand for cheaper and more accessible films, the streaming service met many needs and has millions of us glued to the screen. It has mutated over the years; previously a host to home entertainment releases, they’ve grown substantially to now be privée to new releases, television shows, and have even begun funding their own projects such as Death Note, Mute, or the handful of Marvel series like Jessica Jones. 

Yet it has caused a conflict about where films belong. Of course, there are benefits and negatives. Films will always work better on the big screen whilst streaming opens the door to a wider audience. With more and more titles being monopolised by streaming services, many are worried about what the future of cinema is going to look like and what films are going to suffer because of this change.

One such casualty of this is Alex Garland’s Annihilation. Despite a (tepid) cinema release in the US, an altercation between producer Scott Rudin and studio Paramount meant that it’s overseas release was managed by Netflix. Now, as mentioned before, this is a fusion of bad and brilliant points. On one hand, more people (hopefully) are going to dig into this palpable and astonishing piece of work.  On the other much bigger hand, Annihilation is a movie with such powerful imagery and story-telling that it really  belongs to the big screen.

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So let’s deviate from this discourse to tell you exactly why you should add Annihilation in your My List, watch immediately, and then keep it there forever for future viewings. The Ex Machina genius Alex Garland, returns in this adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel. The movie revolves around a group of military scientists who lead a possible suicidal expedition into an unknown entity called The Shimmer. Lena, an ex-solider and biologist, volunteers to join after her husband disappears from a previous mission. However, what they encounter in The Shimmer is unlike any other…

And Annihilation is unlike any other film (though, I’d argue it has a spiritual counterpart with Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival.) Garland showcases his strength in direction and his ability to craft an imaginative science fiction piece of work. The visuals here are impeccable: A collection of the magnificent macabre that is drenched in colour. He splices brutal beauty and it bleeds onto the screen in a captivating manner. Rob Hardy’s accomplished cinematography enhanced by visual effects team Double Negative make the film an alluring one, capturing the attractiveness of the elusive Shimmer as well as its equally nightmarish side. These are towering visuals that keep you gripped, like a Venus Fly Trap pulling you into its mouth so it can snap and bite back.

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The troop of accomplished and powerful scientists are the main focus of Garland’s movie and they are led by Academy Award winner Natalie Portman. As Lena, she is incredible: emotive, passionate, determined, and with many conflicting parts of her – one of curiosity, one prepared to fight, and one battling her demons. Portman is great in this role. Though there are characters here who I wish we’d spent longer with (Tessa Thompson and her meek yet pained Josie being the main one,) the actor’s here amalgamate (appropriate word) to become this strong team, each with a different energy, essence, and explanation as to why they tick and act. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, the aforementioned Thompson, and Tuva Novotny anchor Portman whilst similarly create friction for each other to thrive upon. There are astute and studied performances here, from a sly cock of a smile in the otherwise stoic Dr. Ventress (Jason Leigh) to the immediate warmth of Novotny’s Sheppard – each actress is assured in their character and allows slight details to bring flesh to their role.

Oscar Isaac as Lena’s husband Kane is also impeccable. Let’s hope that Isaac continues to be a muse for Garland as the skilled actor is a chameleon in every performance he tackles. This is even more so in the film. Friend or foe, deranged or desperate, his immediate presence causes unease and shifts through the course of the film with a terror in his sullen eyes. Though this is placated by flashbacks pre-Shimmer and, therefore, a happier time for the couple, there is still an unnerving element to Kane and Isaac proves that, within this disquiet territory, he is more than able.

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Annihilation creeps and crawls, it shimmers and shakes – haunting and heart-breaking all at once. Garland has conducted a magnificent science fiction drama that nestles into your brain and keeps you locked inside its jigsaw.  It’s a multiple viewing type movie that’ll you’ll curiously digest; not only because of it’s striking display, but also its enriched story. There are twitches and twinges that seep throughout; puzzle pieces that are beautifully discarded across the screen that you happily put together. And yet, you are sure that if you were to scatter them again, following the same structure as before, you’d get a different painting or a deeper, more remarkable one. The mastery of it all is that you’ll want to dive into the shimmer repeatedly, but immediately remember that it is frightening and the fear present here will always stalk.

When it comes to Annihilation, I just wish that Netflix and Paramount would’ve combined the release, in a similar manner to Curzon Home Cinema in which it is available in certain cinemas as well as on streaming. That way you are appeasing the stay-at-homers, the cinema fiends, and those who would like a choice. Instead, it feels somewhat trapped inside this Netflix prism. There is a hope that if much weight is thrown behind the release (it’s available now,) then we may see it on the big screen at last.

Because Annihilation is a mind-bending, gorgeous, and pulsating sci-fi spectacle that deserves every attention that we can give it.

Annhilation is available NOW on Netflix

……and, hopefully, on a big screen too. 

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