See it…if you like creepy visuals and ambitious sci-fi ideas
Skip it…if you need a compelling story to engage with a film
More enjoyable…than Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Less enjoyable…than Arrival
A much wilder tale that winds up feeling unremarkable
Has a similar feel but backs everything up with a story that aligns with the world
I went into my viewing of Annihilation not sure what to expect. I had seen and enjoyed Alex Garland’s last film Ex Machina without being enamored by it and wound up with a similar feeling towards this film. Garland’s films don’t leave you feeling like you have seen a wholesome human story. They leave you feeling a little unsettled. And that is why ultimately I have to say that both films are worth watching. They take an interesting idea and portray a world with that idea in a realistic manner, and then they take a few steps beyond.
The idea here is what it means for us (humans, unless you are an AI of some sort, in which case, all hail) to be biological. Often films look at technology becoming humanoid (Ex Machina and Blade Runner, for instance), but here we get the interesting take on what it means to be composed of cells, beyond the simple fact that it is possible to perish. That idea alone isn’t the only reason you should see this film. The other reason is for the visuals that back up that idea. They are stunning, and often unsettling, and really build to something by the end of the film.
The plot, however, doesn’t really add to the film’s central idea. And that means that certain segments of the film just feel unimportant, even though they are well acted (Natalie Portman and crew along with Oscar Isaacs). Or potentially it’s just a matter of pacing. The film builds slowly and is completely aware of and fine with that fact. And I would say that the build pays off, but it seems to me that the certain segments of the journey should have stood better on their own.
I also need to add that the music and sound of the film are quite good. They stand out in a way that compliments the film’s central idea. I was worried based on the initial trailers that some sound crew was tasked with basically replicating Alien bass a la Arrival. Overall, the sound and music took a neat independent route.
To sum up, this film has an at times unremarkable plot that builds to some remarkable visuals that tie in with a theme I haven’t seen done before. For me, that makes it worth it.
It is interesting how much an ending can change one’s impression of a movie. A good ending can completely reframe the journey. Sometimes this is done through an emotional lens. Take Call Me by Your Name. The ending speech from the father in that film had me recontextualize the key relationship of the whole film. Sometimes it is done through clever plot and sequencing. Arrival pulls that form off with mastery. And the great thing about an ending that encourages reframing is it makes you want to watch the movie again, to really understand this new frame that you are introduced too. Annihilation did this for me in a particularly interesting way. The ending is visually arresting and visceral. It is the sort of gripping you don’t get that often in films. And while I didn’t enjoy the earlier sequences of the film nearly as much, the ending makes for a journey worth considering, especially since it encourages reframing primarily through visuals.
Also, for a moment this film made me amazed at the fact that humans can reproduce sounds we hear. One of our functions is that we can basically be biological tape recorders. I never thought about myself that way, and that this movie made me do so is very cool.