|Directed by||:||Alex Garland||Produced by||:||Scott Rudin, Andrew Macdonald||Screenplay by||:||Alex Garland||Based on||:||Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer||Starring||:||by Jeff VanderMeer, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac||Cinematography||:||Rob Hardy||Production company||:||Skydance Media DNA Films|
What We Loved About Annihilation, An Ecological Horror Story
Annihilation is the latest movie from Alex Garland, director of Ex Machina and screenwriter of Never Let Me Go, 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Dredd. It’s surreal, terrifying, and definitely worth a watch. I sat down with Cameron Kunzelman to try to make sense of it all.
Gita Jackson: Hi Cameron! Last weekend we both saw Annihilation, a movie I was completely unaware of until the day before its release. You, on the other hand, are a big fan of Jeff VanderMeer, the author of the book this movie is based on. Did it live up to your expectations?
Cameron Kunzelman: It did! It’s the kind of book that lots of people said was “unfilmable,” and while I don’t think that’s true, I certainly thought it was going to be a difficult thing to translate onto the screen. VanderMeer is the kind of writer who is often hanging on to hints or generalizations in order to let you speculate your way through a scene and, well, film is kind of antithetical to that in lots of ways. We see what we see onscreen, so it’s hard to straight-up make a movie of a book that is depending on evocative images more than concrete stuff that happens. I know that you read Annihilation recently. What did you make of it?
Gita: Annihilation as a book read more like a free verse poem, which I was very into. Although I got a good feel for the world and it’s characters, I was most enthralled by the way the book gestures towards these grand, life-altering experiences without necessarily giving them concrete details. It’s my favorite kind of writing—writing that’s about emotions rather than writing that tries to thrust its characters from plot point to plot point. I loved that it left me unsatisfied in some ways, the way it built tension and then left me without a lot of resolution, leaving me, like its characters, grappling for meaning. I read this whole book the day before I saw the movie, so I didn’t get a lot of time to reflect on how in the hell they were going to translate that to screen. But apparently Alex Garland, the movie’s director, decided that he would only very loosely connect his film to the book, which I think worked out.
Cameron: My understanding is that he read the book in galleys and then went off to write his screenplay. It’s the loosest form of adaptation, and it’s maybe crucial to note that Annihilation is the first book in a trilogy and that Garland didn’t bother reading those other books. So it’s this great dreamlike thing that’s almost working like a game of telephone. Scary, ecological horror telephone.