Annihilation has been in the news for being different. I always love the sound of that. More so when people say that it is a film that can be talked about and also that it is a film that can be interpreted in different ways by different people and still be enjoyed at their own levels. Natalie Portman is a great actress. She has proved herself time and again and over the last few years her choice of roles has been good. Thus I knew for sure that the film must have an interesting premise. It had a good lead and then a friend of mine told me that it was very nearly a horror film going by its mood, setting, and some terrifying visuals.
The earth has been hit by what seems to be an extraterrestrial body and it has over the course of years created a boundary of a shimmery layer over the landmasses that it has penetrated. The Shimmer, as it is called, is spreading rapidly. It has also been discovered that the Shimmer works as a prism for the DNA of all living beings. Whatever or whoever enters the Shimmer is altered genetically for good or for the worse. A shady organization trying to study and understand the Shimmer has been sending in teams for years and only one of those has returned alive so far. Kane (Oscar Isaac) has returned to his wife Lena (Natalie Portman) but he is not what he used to be. Within minutes of his return, he gets sick and is rushed to a hospital.
Halfway through the ride, Kane and Lena are intercepted by the same shady organization that has been controlling the Shimmer so far. Lena learns that her husband has been inside the Shimmer for all this while and she also learns that he is having critical multiple organ failures and might die soon enough. She is convinced that the secret to his illness is inside the Shimmer. She soon joins a group of female scientists and military personnel and enters the Shimmer to study it, understand it, and find a way to cure her husband as well as put an end to the Shimmer’s spread.
I loved Annihilation. This film kept me glued to the screen with its story, performances, and suspense. There isn’t a moment in the film where you are allowed to breathe easy. Every character in the story is tattered and has some background that makes them troubled souls. They are also ones who have little left in the world that they live in. Even Kane, who went into the Shimmer voluntarily in spite of having a beautiful wife at home went in after certain disturbing realizations. Once in the Shimmer, the team faces terrifying situations at every step that in some weird ways is also beautiful. They retrieve a memory card left behind by Kane in which they see him cut open a team member whose intestine is shown coiling like an eel. They soon recover the body of the same soldier and the mutation that is shown to have occurred has to be seen to be believed.
Alex Garland has a strong sense of visuals and feel. He brings that sensibility to this film with a freshness that I liked immensely. The genetic mutation is used effectively to create some stunning set pieces. I was bewildered by a bear attack sequence in which the bear mimics a dead team member’s cries. That was one horrifying and yet affecting sequence. Annihilation is visually sensational. There isn’t a frame in the film that is not well envisioned. I loved the visual rendering of the scene where one of the team members subtly converts to a plant. It’s hard to describe this sequence in words. It’s best left to be experienced.
Speaking of the performances, Natalie Portman leads from the front. She is playing a character that is torn between her love for her husband and her remorse for being the cause of her husband walking into the Shimmer in the first place. She is in denial of that very fact but it keeps coming back to her through her dreams and visions once she enters the Shimmer. The stress and baggage of that feeling are evidently weighing down on her and it is made evident by Portman’s expressions. She beautifully brings out the nuances of the character and it is this portrayal that makes us so very uneasy.
The same can be said about Jennifer Jason Leigh who plays an important character in the film. She is suffering from a terminal medical condition and it is made evident by her fatigued expressions. It just feels so real that you can’t help but fall for it. Tessa Thompson is the sanest character in the film. She is calm and composed and tries to reason her way through situations. She is like the voice of reason for the whole team. Gina Rodriguez is the polar opposite of her. She is erratic, angry and violent when she has to be. It must be noted that the Shimmer affects each one of the team members in different ways.
The only issue that I had with the film was that in certain ways the ending didn’t make complete sense. A lot of it is left unanswered and open. I have no problems with open endings but when there is as much left unanswered as in this one, then there is some issue. The film shows you something with the intent of drawing your attention to a certain point and then, in the end, it leaves that point off altogether. This doesn’t always serve it well.
Having said all that, Annihilation is still is an exciting, visually stunning and extremely well-acted film that is bound to make you think and ponder over it long after it has ended. It strikes the right notes and makes you a part of the exploration. The fact that it has more to it than what meets the eyes only makes this film that much more interesting and watchable. This is definitely a must watch.
Rating : 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)