By JORDAN BERMAN
“Annihilation” is an adaptation of a book with the same name. If the words “sci-fi” and “horror” together innately excite you, go have fun; otherwise, pass. The film has problems that keep it from being a truly great experience. It has a lot of exploration, weirdness, and Oscar Isaac being depressed.
A professor of biology, played by Natalie Portman, is recruited by the government to handle a mysterious phenomenon mutating a national park. She leads a team of scientists, played by the likes of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Gina Rodriguez, and follows in the footsteps of a team led by Oscar Isaac. I had trouble connecting to any of the characters because they’re all so similar. They’re all damaged goods; they’re all facing the exact same problem; every single line is delivered the same way. That’s more the fault of Writer and Director Alex Garland than any of the actors, but it kept me from really caring about their safety. In fact, there’s only one scene in the movie I can remember with anybody smiling.
A choice in the first shot of the movie robs the story of most of its tension. [Disclaimer: contains minor spoilers.] The main character recounts the bulk of the story to an interrogator. It’s a classic trope, and one that removes any chance of uncertainty for the viewer. From the first scene of the movie, you know Natalie Portman will survive, and nobody else will. I couldn’t tell you what the point of this storytelling perspective was.
[Disclaimer: contains major spoilers]. Several main plot details don’t make much sense in hindsight. The first major action scene is an attack by a mutated crocodile; after a jump scare, in which it grabs one of the secondary characters, it just lets her go, then beaches itself and slowly waddles back towards them. It’s as if the crocodile just gave them a second chance for no real reason. Also, much of the plot revolves around no expedition ever returning from “Area X.”-that name does not make it easier to take this movie seriously. Why doesn’t the secret government task force start with a small expedition, maybe spend a couple hours inside, and then make progressively deeper trips into the unexplored area? Why is every expedition all-or-nothing? There’s nothing stopping the animals from leaving, so why don’t they experiment on some of the animals that have surely left Area X? At least one animal must have thought, “Hmm, I’m going to walk outside of this predefined radius!”
The movie’s main conceit, a zone full of rapid mutation, is a fresh idea that is explored fairly well. But the scientists are just so dumb. They could do so many safer things than what they’re doing. Also, the ending is bizarre, culminating in a single grenade causing an unexplained chain reaction that destroys all the weirdness in Area X. Congratulations, Natalie, you resolved the movie! It was definitely on purpose.
I make a point of giving movies the logical benefit of the doubt, but even I have my limits. This movie tested those limits. It’s not all bad; it’s different, and it has some thought-provoking ideas. But then, so does the book. A movie is $10 and two hours of your time-use those elsewhere.
You’ll like “Annihilation” if:
• You don’t scare easily, or you like being scared.
• You’ve got the stomach for some fairly disturbing images and action.
• You’ve come to grips with your inner nihilist, you accept the things you cannot change and the things that can change you.
Don’t watch “Annihilation” if:
• You expect scientists to be smart.
• You think movies are relaxing, feel-good times.
• You haven’t already seen both “Arrival” and “The Thing.” (They’re better movies, and if you splice them together, this is pretty much exactly what you get).