Annihilation Review: Suspenseful Sci-fi (Spoiler Free)
Alex Garland’s Annihilation is a smart sci-fi mystery movie that doesn’t hold your hand with its plot. It’s shot beautifully, has a great cast, and the narrative is full of mystery and intrigue, but it may not be for everyone thanks to its cryptic open ending. With that being said it’s still an excellent sci-fi film, and is worth watching in theaters, especially loud ones. Head on down below for my full review in video or scripted form.
Hey now sci-fi fans, Matt Heywood here from EntertainmentBuddha.com to review Annihilation, or what I like to call, the film with a hard name to spell.
There will be no spoilers present in this review.
Annihilation stars Natalie Portman as a Biologist named Lena, who volunteers for a secret mission to go into an alien phenomenon called the Shimmer, after her husband returns from his own mission in the Shimmer and clearly isn’t himself. In fact, he’s dying from organ failure and no one knows why. All they know is that he’s the only person in three years to make it out of the Shimmer alive, which is the main reason Lena volunteers to head in. Well there is another big one, but in an effort to avoid spoilers and waxing poetic, I’ll leave it as a mystery.
This alien occurrence is called the shimmer because it’s a wall of moving matter that sorta looks like the color swirl you see in a bubble, but what’s inside of it is much more complex than suds. As Lena and her four female compatriots find out, the Shimmer can change organic matter in many ways. This includes plants and animals, so the world within the Shimmer is unlike anything any of them have ever seen.
Let’s just say they start to realize why no one but Lena’s husband has returned, which provides for a suspenseful journey that keeps you on the edge of your seat until the final shot. I literally couldn’t stop shaking my legs for the entirety of the film due to how mysterious the world of Annihilation is. This is taking into consideration that you are shown at the beginning who survives the mission Lena heads out on, which is further proof to how well the narrative is crafted. Even with some end game knowledge in hand I still was pining away to see just how Lena ends up where she is when we first meet her. Your mind starts to wonder and piece together hints from the world, so like Lena and her compatriots, you’re in a constant state of bewilderment at what is happening around you.
In terms of plot I really can’t reveal anything further without giving away key story beats, but I can tell you that the world of Annihilation is a visual treat. What the Shimmer does to our environment is something similar to what you’d see in an art museum. It’s very colorful, but in a dreadful way. Imagine if when organic matter died it exploded into technicolor sculptures of moldy looking crystals, that’s as good as I can do in trying to relate to some of the imagery that you come across in this film. Things get even more chaotically beautiful the closer Lena and her team gets to their goal, so the visuals change throughout the film to reflect their proximity to the source of the Shimmer, which ultimately is their goal.
Sound design really comes into play too, as it’s used strategically to amp up the already tense action. At times there will be no sound at all to drive home a point, while others you’ll hear loud disturbing synth tones that hint at something otherworldly. The production value of this movie is top-notch, no doubt about it, so it is quite pretty and interesting to look and listen to.
Annihilation is no slouch in its production and cast, but it is one of those films that will affect people differently. This is thanks to its somewhat open ending, and its flashbacks within a flashback narrative delivery. Your given parts of the ending at the beginning, while plot points that flesh out curiosities raised in the beginning don’t get expanded upon until the ending. Hopefully that made sense, all you need to know is that this film doesn’t follow a linear plot structure, so you will ultimately learn the full story over its runtime, but not in the order that makes the most sense for your brain.
If you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy this type of narrative delivery, then you will more than likely take issue with Annihilation, because even I felt that the plot moved a bit too sluggishly to support the building tension that is slowly, but expertly crafted throughout the entirety of the film. At times I just wanted the action to pick up so more of the mystery could be revealed, but due to the various flashbacks and timelines you check in on, the pacing can get uneven, leaving you yearning for the payoff.
In terms of the payoff, it’s done in a style that will again not sit well with certain movie goers. If you need tight and clean endings complete with a bow on top, you will be disappointed. Annihilation ends on a very open note, and one that will surely cause debates among friends on what exactly happened. I usually enjoy these types of endings, but I did find myself hoping for a bit more flesh on the bone. It wasn’t necessarily the ending as it was shot, I actually liked how it ends and you’re given a bit of a twist, but I never felt like the Shimmer itself was given enough explanation. It plays a huge role in the film, but it’s purpose is never really fully explained outside of some conjecture. This was probably done to allow for viewers to formulate allegories for life based on how the shimmer affected the characters and the land, but I would have liked a few more insights into its ultimate goal.
Annihilation is a thought provoking, visually stimulating film, that doesn’t spoon feed its plot to viewers. It makes you work a bit, while also filling in parts of the story yourself to essentially create your own version of how the events played out in the film. While I didn’t quite feel the same sense of wonder and satisfaction as I did after watching Alex Garland’s last film, Ex Machina, I still found it to be an intelligent sci-fi film with tons of suspense and mystery.
It’s an 8 out of 10 type of flick, which isn’t too shabby at all. If you’re up for a non-traditional sci-fi mystery that asks you to think a bit on your own, you won’t be disappointed with Annihilation. Just don’t expect to come out of it with a clear idea of what you just saw.
Thanks for watching, this is Matt Heywood signing off for EntertainmentBuddha.com, where we make you a better geek, one post at a time.
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