Natalie Portman. Scary Creatures. And a dome-like border that looks more like a rainbow sheet of film and stands between them. Welcome. To the world of Annihilation by Alex Garland.
As indicated by my indifferent introduction, this film is an unusually neutral experience. It’s one of those times a film is neither great or terrible and you’re just left feeling like “um…it was ok”. That isn’t to say it isn’t an enjoyable experience overall as Annihilation does things that are awesome and innovative. But there is a whole lot of bullshit that just brings it down to another sub-par science fiction flick.
Which is interesting because, for the most part, everyone has been raving about this film as one of those science fiction pieces that “completely challenges you” and is “really thoughtful and intellectual”. There may be some examples of smart writing scattered throughout, but nowhere near the level of the praise, it is currently getting. And I’ll leave specific examples to illustrate this point clearer in the spoiler section after the end of this review.
What I can say is that this trend of inconsistency is one that not only shadows over the plot but also from a visual standpoint. As if you do end up watching the film, you might notice that Annihilation can be such a fuck around at times. The world within the dome can go from a burst of beautifully decorated colors; to just a shitty blend of dull the next.
Whilst these are varied based on the setting, (which might be an intentional narrative decision), it nevertheless retracts from the entire experience. Couldn’t it have made just as much sense to keep this world as spectacularly designed throughout? Could the plot not have worked the same way instead of reminding us how disgusting and boring it can sometimes all be? It just felt like a missed opportunity for it to be a fantastic film on a visual-scale, that ultimately called for you to see it on that aspect alone.
The same path of thinking can be said for the performances of the actors. Annihilation employs the use of three great actors that I love with Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. But for the most part; there acting was often stale and completely reserved. For Oscar Isaac’s character, this made complete sense given the nature of the story. But for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s; I did not enjoy any of her delivered lines as they were often said in a very dull and neutral way. It didn’t even feel like she was there for most of the time and I found nothing she said as motivated or believable in any respect.
And I probably can’t even blame the actors, since I know they’ve done great in other films before. The fault would ultimately lie to its director: Alex Garland. Which again is a puzzling entity to decipher through some of his choices of dialogue. Garland has the ability to write some fantastic concepts and ideas one second; then completely through this away from the next with some horrendous forms of character speech. Which I’ll also illustrate my point further in the spoiler section.
So overall, whilst I would recommend seeing Annihilation (that’s only on Netflix and not the cinemas); it is a suggestion that comes with no real sense of urgency. This is a very miss-able film but if you do end up going to see it, there will still be some aspects to enjoy. I’ve left out discussing those aspects in this review, so you can specifically like the film a lot more (if you do decide to see it); as any spoiler discussion of those will ruin their desired positive effect. But don’t be surprised if you do come away from this experience and you constantly can’t stop responding to friends who asked you what you thought of it with “um….it was ok”.
Specific issues with the plot and presentation of the film include the following aspects.
- The decision to go into the dome is hampered by the fact that there have been three years of failed expeditions previous to the new all-female team heading in. What I mean by this is that this new team do NOT decide to hug the edge of the border for the dome; as a tool for safety in case, something goes wrong. You know full well going into this mission, that no one in three years which might I add, was comprised of only trained military professionals, has ever returned back alive. But instead of that being a potential thought to keep you more precarious, and hover around the edge of certain safety, you dive deeper into a completely unknown territory. COULD YOU NOT, have reached the same goal of your destination in the lighthouse, but by staying as close as possible to the edge and walking the long way around. So, in case anything did come out to attack you, you can then quickly retreat back to the safe zone from before. Which could even hold military help on the other side if those creatures were able to continue following through and reach you. And as soon as you get near the lighthouse; then you can make the final decision to walk in closer and further inside the dome. But why risk all that during all the time before that?
- When the characters view the handheld footage of Oscar Isaac’s character cutting open the soldiers stomach: we are revealed to an alien-like movement of the intestines. It’s clear that something unnatural is going on. The whole audience feels it. Most of the characters watching it feel it. All except one of the new team, the paramedic, who believes this is simply a trick of the light. A TRICK OF THE LIGHT?! TRICK OF THE FUCKING LIGHT?! Fuck right off. Are you kidding me Alex Garland? This is the sort of writing that I mentioned in my review before that is completely below you and is absolute horseshit. Secondly, this is also raises the point of why the fuck is there a paramedic in the first place? You have a team that comprises of a physicist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a biologist and then: a fucking paramedic?! What the hell is going?! Just stop, please.
- Another cringe-worthy piece of dialogue comes after one character is killed and the others are reflecting on what happened. The physicist mentions how horrible it would have been to have your last piece of memory, trapped forever in a creature that uses your terrified screams for help, as a form of bait to lure others to kill She then adds the stupidly written “I wouldn’t want that for me” before fucking off to disappear and presumably become part of this new shimmer world. YOU WOULDN’T WANT THAT FOR YOU?!NO FUCKING SHIT! Why Alex Garland? Why? This whole dialogue scene feels completely scripted and not at all realistic or natural.
- In one of the first encounters, the team comes across a gigantic crocodile that appears to have fused its genes with that of a shark so it now has its same structure of teeth. Firstly, the CGI on this thing looked horrendous compared to some of the other details on the creatures. Secondly, after they kill the thing, that came from the dark and mysterious looking swamp. They decide to CONTINUE with the original plan of using a boat to sail through it.
WHAT THE FUCK?! What is to stop another one of those crocodiles, which is larger than the fucking boat, to come up and eat you? Fuck off.
- This entire expedition originally started off with no plan for a biologist until Portman’s character came on. And she only did so by complete chance, given it was because of her affiliation with her husband who entered as military personnel and was the only one to ever come back. All of a sudden, having a biologist becomes the most incredibly useful person to have. Especially through Portman, we begin to understand the world around them as she analyzes the way it alters and refracts every living cell and gene that is contained in it. This seems too convenient of a plot detail and begs the question of why the fuck wasn’t a biologist on the team in the first place. Especially compared to the addition of a paramedic who did fuck all to help the team out with any of her “respected” field experience. But OK, whatever, she’s in the team now and that’s all that counts.
- After the first three days in the world, Garland introduces the great notion that none of them can remember what they’ve done until that point. This a pretty interesting idea and it leaves our characters with a new and difficult challenge to overcome. It’s very akin to the merging of Memento in a science-fiction context. BUT. For the rest of the film; this idea is never brought up again. They all begin to perfectly remember what happens each day, even when and how characters were killed. UM, OK? Why the fuck would you introduce this notion in the first place and then completely go against it for the rest of the story? Whatever Garland.
- Given that all previous expeditions have failed; would it not make basic sense to have some sort of system to physically keep track of the new team entering in. Even just some fucking rope (which is a staple of so many other films) that is kilometers long and is attached to them. So, in case they do get lost they could always come back to safety. Not to mention, you could always recover their bodies for analysis. But OK, whatever Garland.
- Could no form of vehicles or transportation be used? I see helicopters hovering around the dome border. Whilst there might be a chance that their systems could be potentially scrambled, doesn’t it warrant a first attempt at trying to use them? There is not a single mention of this throughout so we will have to assume that for three years, they’ve only been sending teams without transportation. Couldn’t there be some alternative type of technology that is run on analog systems, and would work regardless of the possibility of the electronic systems failing? Basically: ANYTHING THAT DOESN’T INVOLVE JUST WALKING FUCKING THROUGH!