After his brilliant directorial debut from 2014, Ex Machina, and his work (writing and, if recent rumours are to be believed, directing) on Dredd, there was huge anticipation as to what writer/director Alex Garland would choose for his sophomore effort behind the camera. He settled on Annihilation, a sci-fi horror that taps into the realms he has travelled before but has delivered one of 2018’s best films so far. It’s just a shame that such a visual treat is heading straight to the small screen.
Natalie Portman leads the charge as Lena, a biologist who suffered a heartbreaking loss after her husband Kane, an Army veteran (Oscar Isaac), is presumed dead after a covert mission. A year on, she is still struggling to cope when, inexplicably, he returns one night without warning – and is immediately rushed to hospital before both he and Lena wake up in an off-the-grid military facility that’s on the outskirts of a phenomenon known as The Shimmer, an environmental entity from which no-one has returned. Except for her husband.
As with Ex Machina, mystery surrounds the film almost immediately – an intrigue that makes you second guess everything that is unfolding even before the full picture has been revealed. Garland has always been a writer who knows how to keep his audience guessing, holding back on just when and where to unveil his master plan – sure this one comes from an existing novel, but the writer/director has stated his adaptation is more of a “dream” rather than a direct one but no less than another piece of Garland brilliance.
There’s many familiar elements here, both visually and structurally, but almost every moment feels new and fresh, and by extension, suprememly entertaining. Notes flutter through with everything from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Under The Skin, An American Werewolf In London and Alien, with others floating around but the film never feels like walking familiar paths. There are a few dodgy CGI-moments but for the majority of the film the visuals are astounding and coupled with the pulsing nature of the narrative, and the characters that inhabit it, Annihilation blends all its elements beautifully.
The cast too, are exemplary, with the front-end group of women leading the charge all as good as they have ever been. Portman, who hadn’t quite hit the heights of her Black Swan Oscar win, produces her best performance in years while Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodruguez, Tuva Novotny and Tessa Thompson provide brilliant support, with the foursome together providing acting fireworks. Isaac, superb in everything he does, isn’t on screen as much as many would hope but we’d rather five minutes with him than many others in Hollywood.
It’s hard to find a false note with Annihilation and if we’re nit-picking there are a few notes that could be trimmed but that’s really clutching at straws. As it is, this is a sci-fi film that’s both tense and smart with visuals to boot and if we’re betting now, this may well be settling nicely in many Top 10’s come the end of the year.
Scott J.Davis | [rating=5]
Sci-fi, Horror | UK, 2018 | 15 | 12th March 2018 (UK) | Netflix Originals | Dir.Alex Garland | Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny