Alex Garland showed great promise in his directing debut, Ex Machina, and his follow-up feature, based on the deceptively dense science fiction novel by Jeff VanderMeer—the first in his Southern Reach Trilogy—will not disappoint anyone willing to delve into a visually splendid film disinclined to provide much in the way of narrative closure. I actually prefer Garland’s screen version of Annihilation to VanderMeer’s source material. (I never ventured into the sequel, Authority.)
On both page and screen, Annihilation details the descent of a group of scientists into an uncharted region known as Area X. The film’s female quintet—Lena (Natalie Portman), Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez) and Radek (Tessa Thompson)—pass a shimmering border to discover a wonderland of genetic mutations, some beautiful, some nightmarish.
Beautiful and nightmarish describes Annihilation pretty well. Like recent entries in the Alien franchise, scary sci-fi melds with its more philosophical cousin to produce a frightening challenge that will most likely turn off mass audiences while pleasing critics and filmgoers hungry for a film more interested in questions than answers; world building over world demolition.
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