Review: Annihilation

February 25, 2018

Before I say anything I want to establish that writer/director Alex Garland is very good at what he does.  The man has the capacity of telling really smart and challenging sci-fi and horror.  He’s written some of my favorites like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and the shockingly great reboot of Judge Dredd that they just called Dredd.  When it comes to films he’s directed, Ex Machina and now Annihilation, I feel like there are more people that are lined up to call him a genius than there should be and some of those praises aren’t quite worth it.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked Ex Machina but didn’t think it was a “masterpiece.”  And now I find myself saying the same thing about Annihilation.

Based on the book, which is part one of a trilogy (still remains to be seen if the other two films will be made), Annihilation is certainly a challenge to your psyche.  Without giving anything away, it’s a film about a biologist trying to understand an aggressive extraterrestrial that doesn’t operate on any of the qualifications that she has.  Think of the movie Arrival except instead of being friendly, it’s scary.  Great premise and I’ve heard from friends who’ve read the book that it’s a pretty savage read; however, the movie comes close to intense several times but never crosses over and that’s not good for a film with a really slow burn

Garland loves strong women and gravitates toward projects that involve them.  Annihilation is no different.  Natalie Portman leads an all-female (yes, there’s a reason for it) team into the mysterious soap bubble that is expanding over the earth.  The team features Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, Welcome to Me), Tessa Thompson (Thor: Raganarok, Creed) and unknowns Tuva Novotny and Gina Rodriguez.  Oscar Isaac (Star Wars, Ex Machina) is peppered in as Portman’s husband as well.  The cast is strong and give performances that are tragic when they need to be but for most of the film they’re muted and understated clearly on the instruction of Garland.  This adds to that slow burn and really testing the audience.

Now, I’m someone that doesn’t mind being tested on a slow burn.  I’d like to think I have the attention span to sit and watch and wait knowing that something epic is around the corner.  The problem with Annihilation is that that epic moment never comes.  Even when grisly and terrifying moments pop up, the violence is escalated but the dread isn’t.  After waiting patiently for two hours and seeing horrific build-up, I wanted the climax to exceed my expectations for being afraid; instead we get a physiological ending that is totally interesting but feels like a letdown.  Sad, when the biggest takeaway is the amazing electronic score from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow of Portishead.

Once again, I’m saying Alex Garland is a good filmmaker.  I look forward to his projects.  However, I want someone who’s described by other critics as an auteur to really push me.  If you’re going to make sci-fi/horror than really let me have it.  You can be smart and scary at the same time.  Annihilation is really, really smart but never scary despite everyone involved in the film thinking that it was.