Metadata: 2018 | R | 115m
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror, Adventure
Why I watched: Liz and I both wanted to see this in theaters, but neither of us made it. (Unfortunately, neither did anyone else. Despite positive reviews, Annihilation was more or less a box office flop, grossing only $11 million over its opening weekend.) When I saw it on iTunes for just $0.99 the other night, I jumped at the chance to watch it finally. My husband (not a fan of horror) gamely agreed to watch with me.
You might also like: Arrival (2016), streaming on Hulu, is phenomenal, and has some striking similarities to Annihilation. Amy Adams stars as a linguist whose task is to learn to communicate with extra-terrestrials who've descended in weird obelisks around the world. Besides being one of the very best movies I've seen, Arrival is a nice alternative to Annihilation if you're just not into horror.
Annihilation starts simply enough. When a mysterious meteor hits a lighthouse somewhere on the U.S. coast, a weird shimmer appears around the site and slowly begins to expand. The government tries to keep the incident under wraps, evacuating local communities under the guise of an environmental disaster. Meanwhile teams of elite soldiers are sent into the Shimmer to try to learn what's causing it. None of those soldiers return—except one. Kane (Oscar Isaac), husband of soldier-turned-scientist Lena (Natalie Portman), shows up one day, sick and confused, a year after leaving for a super secret military mission. Lena had assumed he was dead, and his reappearance not only shocks her, but also plunges her into a world of horror and suspense. A biologist, Lena soon joins an anthropologist, a psychologist, a paramedic, and a physicist—all women—on the next expedition into the Shimmer. Inside Area X the team encounters an otherworldly, rainbow infused place that is utterly and bewitchingly beautiful, but also inexplicable, disorienting, and malignant.
I asked my husband what he thought about Annihilation, and he said he felt like it was trying really hard to be different, but didn't reach the high bar it set for itself. I'm not so sure that it didn't, but I think I understand what he was getting at: the movie tries to be multiple things at once. Equal parts horror, mystery, thriller, and drama, Annihilation is difficult to describe. For me, what makes it different is what makes it so impressive. For one thing, the casting is surprising; several of the (multiple) female leads are distinctly cast against type. Gina Rodriguez (best known for Jane the Virgin), for example, plays a tough, rough, paranoid addict, while Tessa Thompson (Creed, anyone? Thor: Ragnarok?), who is the more obvious person to play Rodriguez's character, is instead cast as a tentative, fragile, bookish type. They both offer superb performances. The soundtrack was similarly unexpected, and yet totally perfect. The trailers for the movie advertised an intense, tonal, trumpeting call that sounded distinctly alien and SciFi-y. The movie itself, though, features folksy, acoustic music that at first seems sort of out of place, but quickly begins to seem unaccountably right. I could go on and on with more examples like these.
In the end, the movie inexorably jogs to a finish so predictable that it once again subverted my expectations. Boy, did I like that! I haven't felt so rewarded for stepping out of my comfort zone (I'm not a horror fan either) for a long time. Y'all, I'd re-watch Annihilation in a heartbeat.
Enjoy—and watch with friends! Grace