top of page

Film Review: Alex Garland’s 2018 “Annihilation”

by Mica Shriver

Alex Garland’s 2018 film “Annihilation” serves up a unique, bewildering, and underappreciated science fiction/psychological horror film, based on Jeff Vandermerr’s novel of the same name. While the film’s theatrical trailer was compelling and interesting, it was not enough to capture this reviewer’s interest when originally released. However, the movie was highlighted in Point Loma High School’s Film Arts course, and recommended as a feminist, female-led science fiction/horror movie that unfortunately struggled at the box office. Ultimately, the film was well worth the watch.

Spoilers from this part out.

Natalie Portman stars in the role of a U.S. Army veteran turned biologist named Lena. While grieving the apparent death of her husband Kane, played by Oscar Isaac, in the special forces, he comes back to her, clearly confused and in need of medical attention. When their ambulance is intercepted by an unknown group, Lena wakes up in a strange, hospital-like facility. There, she learns from Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, Dr. Ventriss, that her husband had entered Area X, also known as The Shimmer, a mysterious phenomenon slowly spreading from a single point. Lena decides to join a team with Ventriss and three other women, all with jobs in scientific or medical fields, in an attempt to find the source of The Shimmer, and discover what happened to her husband. Inside, they find a mutated ecosystem, with mutant plants and creatures. The environment, both beautiful and dangerous, is truly a mystery to the group. As they carry on their journey, they unveil the secret of what is happening around them; The Shimmer refracts DNA as if it is light, leading to an intermixing of all life within it.

The film’s acting, especially that of Portman and Isaac, is truly superb. A scene at the beginning of the movie shows a flashback of Lena and Kane’s relationship, followed by Lena’s grieving. Despite the fact that it is a hard science fiction film, it is easy to empathize with Lena’s situation and her grief, which highlights the overall quality of the film. This is also supported by the performances, song choices, and editing.

“Annihilation” also has one of the most interesting and intriguing plotlines of any recent science fiction film. For the first half of the movie, viewers don't even know exactly what is happening in The Shimmer. And once Tessa Thompson’s character Josie does crack the code, the movie only gets more fascinating. While a typical film would build up to the characters discovering the truth of The Shimmer at the end, it was pleasantly surprising when the team figured it out only halfway through the movie, indicating that the story was only going to get more captivating and bizarre. The climax of the film, a visually marvelous scene taking place in a lighthouse that is the source and cause of The Shimmer, was truly compelling. It was insanely creepy, riveting, and perplexing. The scene manages to combine all of the genres of the film - it was truly a science fiction ending, but also included a terror that was void of gore and blood. Instead, it was psychologically horrific, focusing on a relatable fear.

The film’s visuals are also excellent. The portrayal of the environment and nature itself is beautiful and fascinating. The arrays of flowers, plants, and trees are all visually pleasing. The CGI is incredibly detailed and well done. One scene shows a deceased man from the special forces team with plants growing out of him. While the spectacle originally appears pretty fake, continued pans over the body add to the uncanny tone of the film. Another scene where the visuals help to push and convey the plot of the film is when the team discovers what was happening in The Shimmer. The sky is portrayed as cloudy and dull, reflecting the depressing truth of what the team has immersed themselves in.

Overall, “Annihilation” exceeded expectations, despite a fair amount of gore. With a constantly developing and engaging plotline, along with great acting, visuals, soundtrack, and editing, this movie is a must watch for lovers of the science fiction genre. Unlike many current movies that explore the same genre conventions, which are often predictable and boring, “Annihilation” is the opposite. This is not the type of film where viewers are compelled to check their phones while watching - instead, they will be unable to look away.


bottom of page