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“Annihilation” – Alex Garland and Natalie Portman: Hollywood Film Tribute

Today we are recognizing Annihilation, as well as writer/director Alex Garland, plus star Natalie Portman. Our Hollywood Film Tributes recognize films and talent for their excellence in the art of filmmaking.

It’s been almost 12 months since Annihilation blew audiences away, or at least those who actually saw it. Not catching on with a wide audience led to it being ignored most of awards season, including with the Academy. Still, Alex Garland’s vision, Natalie Portman’s performance, and the singular look of it all rings true. Today, we pay tribute to it, and rightly so…

Here is a bit from our rave review that went up in February, nearly a year ago:

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.

Photos Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Hollywood Film Tributes recognizing films and talent for their excellence in the art of filmmaking.
Editors: Carlos de Abreu and Joey Magidson [Tomatometer-approved critic]
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CRITERIA: HOLLYWOOD FILM TRIBUTES are based on multiple elements that are taken into consideration including award events and consultations with industry insiders (agents, managers, journalists, awards strategists, filmmakers, awards voters, producers, studio execs).

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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