It’s quite a depressing time in Hollywood, with filmmakers and big releases going straight to streaming services like Netflix instead of a wide release. It makes plenty of sense on the business side of things; you get to release a movie that might not have legs at the box office, but it takes away from the theater experience that this kind of movie might benefit from. We’ve seen this done quite a few times this year already, with The Cloverfield Paradox and Mute offering talking points about pros and cons of this service. In my honest opinion, both of these films are trash, and would have bombed hard at the box office, so it was an easy decision to release them through Netflix! Things get a little more complicated when you consider Annihilation, which is being released in theaters for 3 weeks before being put on Netflix in the US, and not even being released into theaters overseas. While this may look like a death sentence for the film, we should consider ourselves lucky that Alex Garland’s sci-fi/horror mind trip doesn’t fall to the same fate as those two previous films, and instead has turned out to be one of the most horrifying and well-crafted science fiction/horror films in recent memory.
Based on the acclaimed book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation follows professor and ex-soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) as she is brought to a mysterious government facility after the reappearance of her husband (Oscar Isaac), who has been missing for over a year. At this facility, Lena learns of a mysterious, alien-like structure that the head of the operation, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), calls the “shimmer.” This unexplained object just happens to be growing, and in fear that it might take out cities (and, eventually, the world), Dr. Ventress and Lena take a team into the Shimmer to find out what it is and why it exists. What follows is a mix of body horror and existential science fiction themes that will absolutely ruin your day if you’re in a certain mood. Alex Garland, whose last film, Ex Machina, follows a similar formula, uses Annihilation as a talking point, a way to express sorrow, fear, and change.
That form of expression is really Annihilation‘s greatest strength. Instead of taking the easy route and just making a straight-up horror film (which we all know Alex Garland would kill), he instead makes Annihilation an existential crisis. This is the kind of movie you sit through the credits for– not out of respect, but just to collect your thoughts and to understand better with whoever you went to go see it with. To go with this, Annihilation really benefits from discussions and analysis, so much that I wasn’t quite sure I actually liked the movie until I furthered discussions with friends and online forum users and gained more knowledge of the film’s content.
That’s not to say the film is immediately bad, just a sitter and a grower. What is on screen, though, is nothing short of spectacular. From the haunting yet beautiful imagery to the quick but brutal acts of violence, Annihilation is science fiction bliss through and through, one that is bone-chillingly terrifying at points. There’s a certain sequence involving a, um, bear, where I was squirming in my seat the whole time. As seen in Ex Machina, Garland is a master of building suspense, and, in Annihilation, his true talents are used full force. You want gore? You’ll get it. Existential horror? You bet! Fears for the future? Definitely. This is the kind of science fiction we deserve.
Annihilation is not without its faults, unfortunately. The pacing in the first act can be painstakingly boring at times, and some of the acting is a bit iffy, but, honestly, none of that hurts my love for Annihilation. It’s very rare nowadays that we get super original movies like this one, the type of films that make you think, instead of the director telling and showing everything you’d need to know. These are the type of films that deserve your utmost support, so with that being said, you have a week or two left to catch Annihilation in theaters. And I beg of you, try your damn hardest to see this movie in theaters and don’t wait for Netflix, because to do so would be a dishonor to Alex Garland and Annihilation in general. This needs to be seen on the big screen.
dir. Alex Garland
Playing in theaters everywhere!