|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|
Annihilation is the most thoughtful science fiction movie since Arrival
In the spoiler-sensitive environment of today’s entertainment, there may be people who resent the opening scenes of Annihilation, which gives away most of the movie’s direction. A biologist named Lena (Natalie Portman) has survived a cataclysmic event. Sitting in an isolation chamber, surrounded by unnerved people in hazmat suits, she’s interrogated about what just happened to her. In the process, she reveals who among the yet-to-be-introduced cast of characters survives, and who dies. And the scene makes it clear that while some of her companions may be alive, she’s the only one who made it back to report. This framing device can’t quite be called foreshadowing: the details Lena lays out are too solid to be shadows. They’re just fore-facts. And they hang over Annihilation with a sense of leaden inevitability.
But it’s a mark of success for the film that even knowing the outcome doesn’t disperse the tension. Annihilation is a portentous movie, and a cerebral one. It’s gorgeous and immersive, but distancing. It’s exciting more in its sheer ambition and its distinctiveness than in its actual action. And by giving away so many details about the ending up front, writer-director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) seems to be emphasizing that Annihilation isn’t about who-will-live dynamics, or the fast mechanics of action scenes. It’s about the slow, subdued journey Lena and the others take into the unknown, and how it affects them emotionally.