Directed by Alex Garland
English filmmaker Alex Garland has a penchant for intellectual sci-fi thrillers. The follow-up to the well-received “Ex-Machina” is another uncanny puzzle entitled “Annihilation”, the first installment of the Southern Reach Trilogy, originally penned by novelist Jeff VanderMeer. Garland adapted it for the screen, calling Natalie Portman to impersonate a biology professor and former soldier who joins a female team of military scientists to undertake the oddest mission ever.
As a premise, the film presents us Lena (Portman) under interrogation by U.S. Government agents about a classified expedition into an unearthly, abnormal phenomenon known as The Shimmer. She was the only survivor from a psychedelic experience that also involved psychologist/team leader Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), and geologist/surveyor Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny). Former military incursions into the affected area, which covers a national park, were unsuccessful, and no one ever returned to tell the story, except for Sargent Kane (Oscar Isaac), Lena’s husband. However, he seems to have lost his memory and falls gravely ill with multiple organ failure, most likely due to virus or radiation exposition. The rumors are that, once there, people lose their memories and then are mysteriously killed, or get delirious and start killing one another.
Thus, there's plenty of bite here, even before the team steps into the iridescent electromagnetic field that identifies The Shimmer. Once in there, confronted with several technical problems and time lapses, they observe that the landscape and all types of life form are mutating. It’s not uncommon to find plants with a human shape and they even see trees made of crystal. However, if this certainly won’t scare you, punctual grotesque encounters with wild, abhorrent, carnivorous creatures will make you twist on your seat. Possible hallucinations? The dreamlike tones are properly set to make us alert as we penetrate in this chimerical world of horror and beauty. Macabre footage by the precedent explorers is found in an old warehouse, which bemuses the brave women even more.
According to the ice-cold Dr. Ventress, who shows there's something wrong with her as she lectures Lena about self-destructiveness, the goal is to reach a lighthouse at the center of The Shimmer.
We’ve all seen this type of story many times before and its moods are not a novelty either. Still, Garland, who has the capacity to develop ideas beyond the superficial, conquered me with a magnificent last part, superbly represented through visually mind-blowing images drowned in gorgeous special effects. It’s the psychological side of the story that is challenging as it also brings thrills and excitement.
Fusing elements of “Alien”, “Predator” and “Arrival”, “Annihilator” is a dark-tinged equation whose resolution whets our appetite for the upcoming sequels.