Movies Annihilation (2018)
The only advice I can give to anybody going to see Annihilation is: stick with it. I definitely was close to checking out around the middle point, but quickly my interest was piqued and in the blink of an eye the movie turned into a profound, 2001 meets Under The Skin meets Predator surreal science fiction near- masterpiece.
The first half is so patiently mediocre that the second half almost feels like a completely different movie, making the movie a mixed bag but one that’s totally worth it. Some of the performances are great, some are okay, and at least one is noticeably bad. Natalie Portman turns in a great performance (she carries the entire film) and Jennifer Jason Leigh gives a reserved and underplayed angle to a well worn out archetype. The side characters however, like Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson, are mostly annoying and sometimes border on being simply bad. Oscar Isaac is very good.
Most of the technical choices are good. The cinematography isn’t particularly flashy but it captures the world behind the shimmer in all of it’s messed up glory (the last twenty minutes are truly a thing to behold). The music choices are also a mixed bag. Soft strum guitar comes in at random intervals and doesn’t really work, but the dark, brooding thump of a certain synth track really gives you a sense of cosmic horror.
I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m going to leave it at that. Go support this movie, even if it isn’t perfect. There are so many great things about it that they way outweigh the flaws.It seems Alex Garland self-admittedly decided to take the concept of an adaptation very loosely, apparently only reading the first book the film is based on (which is part of a trilogy) once, and allegedly, writing the screenplay from his memory, ‘like a dream.’
Now I don’t want this review to be about how the film compares to the book, everyone hates that. It is a given that a film is going to be different from the book, it always will be and that’s fine – and that was clearly the intention here. Besides, the book itself is a real challenge to adapt, and Garland probably saw it that way, hence his decision to depart from the source material as much as possible.
Let me try to summarize the premise without spoiling too much: Natalie Portman joins a scientific expedition in an area that has been quarantined for the past three years, from which nobody has ever returned, with the exception of her husband, who seems to have lost all his memories of his time there. As she begins to explore said area, she quickly discovers that the laws of physics seem to have changed there, and that the environment is hostile to human life.
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That is a very great premise with a ton of potential for a thrilling movie. Somehow, it seems Alex Garland thought that he would use his fifty-five million dollar budget to make his own version of 2001, but sadly, he failed at that too. The first half hour of the film meanders in pointless exposition scenes and excruciating attempts to make us care about any of the characters. Natalie Portman focuses all her attention on looking tough and depressed, which only succeeds at alienating us from her completely.
By the time the expedition into Area X begins, we have already completely lost interest in the film. Yet it goes from bad to worse. I expected the story to at least gain some momentum once the expedition would start, but instead, Garland chose to continually slow everything down with pointless flashbacks of more of what already turned the first act into a borefest.
But not only is the second act as boring as the first act, which in itself is a significant achievement, it also turns out to abandon any form of logic or character development. Under the pretext that the members of the expedition are supposed to ‘go crazy,’ Alex Garland lazily makes them do whatever he wants them to in order to serve his otherwise completely bland and uninspired plot. The characters go from place to place without any logic or reason in a very Blade Runner 2049 fashion just to fill out the space while no tension is built or additional information really given. Characters continually spout out exposition based on rough observations they make on the spot – to a degree that is laughable by anyone who has ever opened the most basic science book in their life.
The main thread is also continuously interrupted by an interrogation scene that adds absolutely nothing to the movie, except additional overexplanations of what is happening that are already pretty heavy handedly over explained by the characters going through it – I wish I could quote some of the most awful lines, however, without context, they wouldn’t make any sense, but let me just state that the film contains some of the most horrible dialogue I have heard in recent years, and there has been plenty of horrible dialogue in recent years.
Eventually, we reach a third act that is simply as flat as the previous two, but turns into a pseudo psychedelic 2001 inspired sequence at some point that is supposed to inspire awe and wonder in its audience, but can only generate contempt or at the very least, mockery, whether it is with the pathetic CGI that makes the movie look like an episode of Quantum Leap or Sliders, or the ridiculous concept it is trying to represent which essentially feels like a 3rd grade summary of philosophy for dummies.
Fascinatingly, nothing saves this movie in any way. The already terrible cinematography is constantly worsened by awful looking CGI flares that attempt to create an eerie atmosphere and instead constantly remind the audience that, yes, there is CGI everywhere. And then, Natalie Portman really struggles to bring any life to her performance, and one can’t really blame her for it either: what could she possibly do when her character is written so superficially, when there is nothing human about who she is supposed to embody? The same goes for the supporting cast, which is as robotic as Ava was in Ex-Machina. Except that, this time, it shouldn’t be that way.