Friday, 2 March 2018

Annihilation



Wow!

For me, there are few pleasures greater than going to the cinema to see a sci-fi flick I know nothing about and being transported so completely to a different world that it takes me hours to find my way back to earth. In the case of Annihilation, the different world is our own, but the atmosphere of the film, hugely aided by the luscious cinematography and the necessarily overwhelming, mind-blowing score, made it feel like I was visiting another planet. 

I wasn’t entirely surprised by how much I loved this film. After all, I had had similar feelings about Alex Garland’s previous film, Ex Machina. But I had watched enough of the trailer to make me think Annihilation was not going to be my kind of sci-fi film. Vicious mutated animals? Really? Doesn’t sound original or exciting. And, indeed, that gory aspect of the film did not appeal to me at all. But fortunately that was only a tiny piece of the story, a tease to get the violent-action-loving masses to come out and watch. The ‘fun’ is solving the mystery of why the animals are mutated, a mystery that could have come out of a Star Trek episode if Star Trek had allowed itself to get really serious (made-for-HBO kind of serious).

The tension and fear are almost worthy of Alien, and the intelligence, pacing and atmosphere are comparable to Tarkovsky (Solaris and Stalker), as is the story, which requires a lengthy discussion afterwards of the “what really happened here” variety. Annihilation also reminded me of recent favourites like Arrival and Midnight Special

I just read that there were actually fewer films with female protagonists in 2017 than in some previous years. That wasn’t my experience, and certainly Annihilation is starting things off well in 2018. Almost all of the characters in the film are women. The one exception (Kane, played by Oscar Isaac) is mostly seen in flashbacks. Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a biology professor whose husband (Kane) went missing in action and is presumed dead. Until a year later, when he suddenly walks into Lena’s house. But something is wrong with him, and soon they are rushing to the hospital, only to be intercepted by people in mysterious vehicles who kidnap both Kane and Lena. 

When Lena wakes up, she is greeted by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who will introduce Lena to the mystery I spoke about, a mystery I will not describe here, other than to say that, with the exception of Kane, no one who had ever tried to solve that mystery was ever seen again. But they were all men. What might happen if you send five women instead, scientists like Lena, Ventress, Gina (Anya Thorensen), Cass (Tuva Novotny) and Josie (Tessa Thompson)?

Brilliantly structured, well-acted, intelligently written and endlessly thought-provoking, this haunting, intense and scary work of pure science fiction is my idea of fun. Annihilation gets ****. My mug is up for this guaranteed entry into my top-fifteen films of 2018. 

2 comments:

  1. So here is where we must disagree. The problem begins in that sci-fi horror/thriller is a supremely non-interesting genre for me, and this film is way too typical of the genre for me to appreciate it. I can tolerate the genre and love the film when the story is interesting and creative (like Arrival or Ex Machina), but the overall structure of the film was boringly typical sci-fi for me. Ho-hum: monster appears...etc. How boring can we get!

    Having 5 female lead roles was a great idea, though not well-used. I can't even begin to start pointing out the incredible number of grossly illogical points in the film. How the critics can live with these, I don't understand.

    I do give some points for some thought-provoking ideas (tendencies toward self-destruction, openness to everything being made new, etc.), but in my opinion none of this coalesced. Sorry - no mug up from me and I give it a disappointed **+ at best.

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  2. Hmm. I agree about the 'monster appears' part of the film. As I mentioned, that seemed boring and unnecessary. And it's true that there were some illogical parts of the film. But I (and presumably other critics) found it hard to argue with those because of the film's unique ideas and structure (which made it hard to know exactly where Garland was going with those illogical points), which, along with the general style and atmosphere, are why I loved this film. The one thing you mention that I strongly disagree with is that Annihilation is boringly typical sci-fi. I didn't find it typical at all (especially the pacing), except of some of sci-fi's great masterpieces (which are not typical). I think the key to your lack of appreciation for this film (versus my love for it) is that the genre is so non-interesting for you, while for me the genre is one of my favourites.

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