A biologist named Lena (Natalie Portman) mourns for her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), after he disappears on a mysterious military mission. One day, he suddenly returns, but almost immediately takes ill and is incarcerated. Lena is informed that Kane ventured to the ‘Shimmer’, a baffling phenomenon that is spreading across the world, but no one knows why or what happened to Kane. In order to help her husband, Lena volunteers to go on the next mission to the area, which comprises an exploration of the region by a group of female scientists led by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
Though Annihilation was granted a limited cinema release in the USA and Canada, the sci fi flick is becoming available to other regions via Netflix. Given the recent, similar story regarding The Cloverfield Paradox’s distribution, namely that a major studio was behind both films but a release date was not being revealed for either until it emerged the films were headed for the streaming service platform, one would fear that Annihilation would end up being a similar sh** show of a movie to the formerly named God Particle film. Fortunately, with a sharp and engaging writer-director like Alex Garland behind it (best-known for Ex-Machina, Garland’s credits also include 28 Days Later…, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go), one needn’t have feared.
Like Garland’s previous works, Annihilation manages to be cerebral and fascinating but still thrilling and entertaining. Visually and narratively, the film’s most immediate comparison is Alien – but it’s more like Alien on crack. Arguably, Annihilation is the film that Alien: Covenant wanted but failed to be. While it also draws likeness with such female-led recent science fiction films as Under the Skin and Arrival, Annihilation still manages to be all its own and particularly uses the ‘shimmer’ theme to create a distinct, visual, vibrant world that is inviting but deadly.
The casting is perfect with Natalie Portman a skilful lead. Oscar Isaac is excellent as Kane while the science team actresses, who include Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novony, are all remarkable. Thompson, who continues to prove herself one to watch after recent roles in films like Selma, Thor: Ragnarok and Creed, is exceptional, communicating much through a series of looks and limited dialogue (not the fault of Garland, I might add, but rather resulting from the challenge of assigning characters enough screen time and dialogue when there is such thematic complexity to get through in the script on top of character development).
Through its ambience, which meticulously accomplishes a blend of dread and wonder, Annihilation skilfully builds up to its super trippy, creepy, and existentialist crescendo. It left this reviewer shook and will no doubt inspire heated discussions among its viewers as to what the whole thing means. Whether the film has enough idiosyncrasies going for it to deem it a classic for the years, only time will tell, but one thing is for sure. If Netflix continues to invest in these kinds of movies, the smart, captivating ones with skilled writer-directors behind them, rather than pouring out any old original movie content which is almost never up to scratch - especially when compared to Netflix series content - then the streaming service may yet prove itself a menace to cinema.