Former US army soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) is talked into going into “the Shimmer” after her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) comes home ill. With a team of scientists, they pass through and enter a bizarre plain with a very different ecology and physiological structure from Earth, with something very strange lurking under all of this.
I seriously cannot recall a movie that frustrated me more than Annihilation. And it’s in no way because it is bad, more to do with the fact that it’s got so much going for it and yet it fails in a lot of integral ways. The science fiction concept is so damn unique and interesting, yet it’s cobbled together by an underwhelming plot and cast who are just not interesting or well fleshed out. Outside of Lena and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Dr Ventress, the rest of the cast are pretty stock and unmemorable. This kind of sucks the life out of the slow build and reveals because there’s nothing to grasp onto to keep your interest.
This is also reflected in the performances, and I’m sorry to say that none of them particularly work here. And this isn’t due to lack of talent-nearly all of the cast I love. Natalie Portman is one of the best actresses of her age when given the right part, and I never thought I’d be underwhelmed by anything Jennifer Jason Leigh and Oscar Isaac do, and yet here we are. None of them really feel that compelling or passionate. This feels like a directing choice however, and maybe there’s some intentionality to their performances feeling so odd, but it doesn’t make the film all that compelling for me.
The visual effects are also a mixed bag. Some are some of the most cleverly constructed, well-implemented and stunning effects I’ve seen in a film in a long, long time. Some are complete garbage. It really exemplifies my feeling for this film. I love how that bear monster looks, and the less said about the use of visuals to create a tone in the finale the better, it’s just a pity that none of this is consistent. I also think the film looks very flat and unwashed. There’s not a lot of energy or immersion in the cinematography to help complement the bizarre situation. It’s the same cinematographer for Ex Machina, who did a great job there, so again I wonder if this was the intent.
Annihilation is a great film trapped inside a frustrating one. Every time I see something I really loved (like the use of music in one moment), something else would pop up that would completely ruin the moment for me. it maybe one I re-examine to see if it works better from another watch, but as it stands there’s a lot here but a lot missing to make this entire experience feel whole. Having said all that, it’s such a distinctive and fascinating sci fi concept that I’d honestly say check it out. Science fiction is rarely this bold and innovative in film nowadays. I’d just taper your expectations a tad.