Director Alex Garland is no stranger to sci-fi films that capture the essence of the sublime, beauty and horror in a haunting manner. His previous works, including Oscar-wining Ex-Machina, portray perfectly the dark side of both humanity and inhumanity. Whilst you may expect Annihilation to be an action-filled drama featuring the commonly-done fight between humanity and the aliens, you may or may not be pleasantly surprised to find that the film is much more than a shallow action plot.
The story follows main character Lena (Natalie Portman) who joins a team of female scientists about to head into ‘The Shimmer’ – a national park infected by an unknown alien force – after her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) became the first person to return. Whilst the team are inside ‘The Shimmer’, we learn that each of the five women have some sort of emotional baggage – addiction, grief, illness – that has spurred them to volunteer for this so-called suicide mission, and possibly what drives them to continue delving deeper into the eerie and deadly atmosphere until it breaks them. Whilst this plot may not be ground-breakingly unique, it is certainly still refreshing to see a group of female scientists, including POC and LGBT+ characters, forming the main cast.
The film is nothing short of thought-provoking.
Annihilation presents the perfect allegory for self-destruction in a haunting an stunning manner. One of the producers even deemed the film “too smart” for box-office audiences, perhaps suggesting this as one of the reasons the film was released solely on Netflix internationally rather than making it to cinemas outside of the US.
‘The Shimmer’ may have been created as a reflection of our world in which the beautiful, ugly and strange all roam free, creating both absolute chaos and terror as well as wonder. There are moments in which we see positive change, such as plants and flowers beginning to grow into human-like forms. We are reminded that outer beauty does not always mean something is good on the inside. This can be seen more in the terrifying transformed creatures that have been created from the refracting of human, animal and botanical DNA. Whilst they could be seen as physical metaphors for the dangers of self-destruction, these creatures pose threats much more recognizable and visually alarming than the threats we can pose to ourselves emotionally and mentally.
The classic trope of each character being picked off one-by-one in ominous circumstances is undoubtedly employed in Annihilation, but this tactic is not used to be shallow.
The ways in which the characters die can be seen as metaphors for the different ways self-destruction can affect and destroy an individual. It could come quickly and unexpectedly, mirrored in the way Cass (Tuva Novotny) is taken and mauled by the large and creepy bear-hybrid. It could creep up on you slowly in the forms of anxiety or paranoia just as Anya (Gina Rodriguez) is driven to the edge by her mistrust of Lena. You could let it consume you and become entirely passive against it, which can be seen in how Josie (Tessa Thompson) allows herself to become completely vulnerable to the nature around her – or you could let it consume you and drive you mad in the process instead, as can be witnessed in the end of Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
Alex Garland himself explained the central theme of self-destruction in an interview:
I think the main thematic preoccupation probably belongs primarily to the film, which is really about self-destruction. It’s about the nature of self-destruction in a literal sense: cells have life cycles and stars have life cycles and plants and the universe and us. You, me, everyone. But also psychological forms of self-destruction.
Annihilation is nothing short of gripping with its thrilling story-line, beautiful effects and with the exploration of such fascinating themes. The film undoubtedly leaves you with questions, such as: are we all really destined to self-destruct?
Stream the film on Netflix now!
Cover Image Courtesy of Peter Mountain / Paramount Pictures.