‘Annihilation’ Movie Review

Annihilation is a 2018 sci-fi horror film directed by Alex Garland and written by Alex Garland and Jeff VanderMeerVanderMeer also wrote the novel the movie is based on. I love this movie dearly. I was already interested in watching this movie because it features Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson. But hardly anyone knows about it. And that’s because it wasn’t properly marketed. A lot of people saw this movie as just a horror film, but it’s less horror in the way that Barbarian is. It’s more of a surreal vibe rather than taking the suspenseful and slasher direction that most horror films take. 

The Story of Annihilation

[Editor’s note: There are heavy spoilers about the movie Annihilation ahead.]

The film follows biologist Lena (Natalie Portman), whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) has been missing for over a year. One night, he returns home, but it’s not what it seems. This is the first suspenseful moment in the movie. When I watched Annihilation for the first time, I thought her husband was definitely acting weird. I was wondering if he had come back feeling uncomfortable due to his trauma from the mission he was on. But after rewatching the film, I realized that her husband is a clone. Eventually, the clone gets sick, and Lena calls 911. However, the ambulance is intercepted by the army. 

Lena soon discovers what her husband has been doing for a year. Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) Lena about The Shimmer and the expedition she’s leading to understand The Shimmer and why it is here. Lena takes part in the expedition to discover what happened to her husband inside Area X.

From the very start of the expedition, Dr. Ventress tells Lena not to tell the other women the real reason why she is part of the expedition. It’s hard for me to watch the main character lie to the other characters in the film because it’s always in a scenario where they are sacrificing their life. Then it feels like the character who lied isn’t taking it as seriously as they are and is instinctively betrayed by what they did. This hits even closer to home in Annihilation because the other explorers said yes to the expedition and are sacrificing their future to understand The Shimmer. 

Although, from the backstories of the other explorers, they didn’t believe they had a future. They were, in a way, doomed already. 

The women in Annihilation are suffering deeply

Josie (Tessa Thompson) is struggling with self-harm, Ventress had cancer, Katie (Sonoya Mizuno) is dealing with addiction, and Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) has lost a child to leukemia. All these women were suffering so deeply, so why not walk into a strange alien force field? These women have nothing to lose, except that Lena can leave The Shimmer because she wants to get back to Kane. Even though she is probably aware that Kane isn’t the Kane she knows, she wants to make it back to the land of the living and make things work between the two of them.

It’s interesting to me how Lena believes there is still a future for her outside of The Shimmer after seeing how Kane’s clone reacted to being out of the Shimmer for a little while. Fans have theorized that it was not Lena who left the Shimmer; instead, it was her clone. Based on the Ouroboros tattoo on her arm, I believe it’s both Lena and her clone. Again, other reviewers and fans who have written about Annihilation talk about the overarching theme of self-destruction. The tattoo of the snake eating itself goes along with that.

The movie explores self-destruction, mutation, and creation

The movie takes biological concepts to explore the deeper ideas of self-destruction and mutation. Annihilation shows humans’ tendency toward self-destruction to create a powerful cinematic experience and demonstrates how something new can be made following little a annihilation. Self-destruction and, as Lena says later during a flashback to this moment, we can describe cancer as a mutation that causes unregulated cell growth. It changes us, mutation.

But The Shimmer does more than mutate the DNA of the life forms within it. It also makes copies of things like a cell. The bear that took Sheppard’s life mimics her cries to trick Kate. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, mutation is used to create a new twist on a classic horror scene.

Gina Rodriguez’s twisted classic horror scene

Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez) is losing her grip on reality and has tied her fellow team members to chairs. She doesn’t believe the other explorers when they tell her she died. Suddenly, she hears the voice of Sheppard, who was killed by a bear earlier in the film. But it’s not Sheppard. It’s the bear-like creature that killed her. Then, the mutated bear covered in pink skin lesions opens its jaws, and a human-like noise emerges. It’s one of the best scenes in the film and reflects Sheppard and Kate’s state of mind before coming on the expedition.

In the same way that cancer cells ravage your body, so did the bear tear Sheppard apart. Just like addiction makes you lose cognitive functions and long-term substance abuse can cause organ damage, the bear slowly taunts Kate as she’s already started to lose the plot. Kate and Sheppard knew that this was essentially a suicide mission, but their current lives became heavy. It was probably a constant struggle for Sheppard to get through the day with the weight of her grief from losing a child. Recovering from addiction isn’t an easy task, so Kate’s life turned into a test of endurance to stay sober. It was more of a challenge to continue acting like they were fine rather than committing to an impossible mission for the greater good. How they died mirrored the challenges they were dealing with before entering The Shimmer.

What is The Shimmer in Annihilation?

The Shimmer is an exceptional extraterrestrial being who understands human nature and knows how to adapt, tear it down, and make it new. Josie was someone who wore long sleeves to hide her self-harm scars. She’s struggling with the depressing, numbing ache of life that she hurts herself to feel something. When Josie arrived at the flower fields, she saw beauty in The Shimmer. This gave her the feeling she was seeking, and she became the flower. In a way, she is reborn when she enters The Shimmer.

Dr. Ventress also goes through her rebirth in The Shimmer. She is leading this expedition because she has cancer, and she knows there is no way out of The Shimmer. Like the other women, she is willing to leave her life behind to find meaning to this extraterrestrial being. When she finally leaves the lighthouse, she fulfills her purpose. Her physical form disintegrates, becoming an ethereal, pulsating, hyper-technicolor void, suggesting that she has transcended her human existence and integrated into the enigmatic cosmic existence represented by the alien entity. It’s interesting how enigmatic the film is, and I enjoy the thought-provoking journey this film takes us on.

Annihilation is ambiguous on purpose

I love that it stays ambiguous on purpose. There are so many different ways to interpret this film. This movie has several video essays about Kane and Lena’s relationship, whether or not the five explorers are their true selves or clones if Lena at the end of the film is a clone, and so many other theories.

It’s astonishing to see Garland create a new narrative for this story and go in a different direction than the book does. To do this alongside the book’s author, he gives a new take on the metaphorical nature of Annihilation and sees the transformative forces at play in the narrative. The film invites viewers to make different interpretations and draw their own conclusions at the end. I think The Shimmer is an interesting organism studying life as humans live it. You believe that things are gone and annihilated, but something always remains. As Dr. Ventress vanishes, her body evolves into something else. I think that film shows us that nothing truly ends. 

The Shimmer is taking the circumstance of the explorers’ pain and suffering and changing it, rearranging it. This film is an out-of-body experience at times. One thing I have learned about it is that there is no end since things are constantly changing. Of course, their mission was futile because the Shimmer was not a problem to solve. It’s not a threat to be assessed or a monster that needs to be tamed. It’s a maze with only an entrance and no way out.

Annihilation is now streaming.

Annihilation is now streaming. Have you watched it yet? What do you think? Connect with us on X @MoviesWeTexted to let us know what you think.

 

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