“Annihilation” is another ambitious sci-fi effort from Alex Garland

Folks, Ex Machina was no fluke. Alex Garland, long a top tier genre screenwriter, has evolved into one of the more exciting filmmakers out there. His latest directorial outing, the hugely ambitious Annihilation, is easily among the best films of 2018 so far. Opening this week, it represents thoughtful science fiction at its most engaging. Garland clearly is now a director with a lot to say, as opposed to just a writer. Everything he suggested with Ex Machina he pursues on a grander scale here. In face, Annihilation, at least in my opinion, is the superior work. High praise for sure, but earned praise, without question.

The movie is a sci-fi tale mixed with some legit horror elements. After “something” crashes into a lighthouse, a glowing anomaly called the “shimmer” begins spreading. Still contained within the beach and nearby swamp where it began, the shimmer will soon begin encroaching on American territory. The government has been sending expeditions inside of it, with no one having ever come back, at least until Kane (Oscar Isaac) does. Something is off though, as his biologist wife Lena (Natalie Portman) quickly discovers when he returns home after being missing from his secret mission for a year. Intercepted by the government, they’re taken to Area X, where Kane is slowly dying. Lena is essentially recruited by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for help, though she instead decides to volunteer for the next mission inside the shimmer. Paired with Ventress, Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), and Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Lena sets off to see what’s inside the shimmer and if she can help. The women go in and nothing is the same again. To say any more would be to spoil things, but it’s both beautiful and horrific (also, I’ve only described the first act). Garland writes and directs, with the supporting cast also including David Gyasi, Benedict Wong, and more. Rob Hardy provides the beautiful cinematography, while the score comes from Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. Everyone contributes to make this a very special cinematic offering.

This film, quite frankly, is kind of amazing. Garland displays an ability to mix big ideas, stunning sci-fi, incredible images, and gruesome violence in a way that few can. At times, this is a straight up horror exercise, but in a form you probably have never seen before. If you were to mix Alien, Arrival, and David Cronenberg into a hallucinogen, that might suggest what Annihilation is like, and that still wouldn’t quite do it justice. Kudos to Portman and company for signing up for this expedition. I completely understand why Paramount doesn’t quite know what to do with this, but they should be trusting the filmmaker and ignoring the likely poor CinemaScore (think the same thing as what happened with mother!). This deserves a true push.

Awards wise, Annihilation is a long shot for Oscar attention, but then again…the Academy has been more open to this sort of thing these days. In a perfect world, a push would be made in Best Picture, Best Director (for Garland), Best Actress (for Portman), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Garland as well), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, and Best Visual Effects. Above the line nominations are probably not happening, sadly, but below the line, a nod or two could certainly be possible. Depending on how the year goes, noms in the Sound categories or Visual Effects may end up in play.

On Friday, audiences will probably be split on Annihilation. Again, look for a very poor CinemaScore (an F is not out of the question), but ignore that. This is a great film. Garland is displaying tremendous ambition and should be an A-list filmmaker in short order. It’s hard to describe all that happens in this movie, but it’s operating on a level that we never get in February, that’s for sure. Between this and Black Panther, the last two weeks have offered supposed genre fare that goes beyond what we normally expect. In fact, this is probably slightly better than Marvel’s latest too. If you want to have your mind blown, make it your business to see Annihilation. You can thank me later…

Be sure to check out Annihilation, opening in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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