Part of Alex Garland’s reputation has come from a particular streak of dark and violent science fiction, from 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Dredd to his directorial debut Ex Machina and now with Annihilation.
Much has been made of the fact that this film, clearly made for big screen projection, has been picked up by Netflix rather than getting a cinema release.
While it is always preferable to see any properly made films in a cinema given the nature of this film, I think it’s likely Netflix will give Annihilation a wider potential audience given the success of the likes of Black Mirror on the streaming service.
Annihilation tells the story of a former soldier, now biologist, Lena (Natalie Portman) and a team of four other fairly archetypal female characters (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Tessa Thompson) investigating a mysterious force in a remote part of the United States.
This force, generally called the ‘Shimmer’, appears alien in origin and has resisted any previous investigation with the exception of Lena’s husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) who has apparently returned from within only to suffer near fatal medical side effects.
While the plot is fairly basic on that level, it’s obvious that Garland’s aim here is less in elaborate and ground breaking story telling and more in saying something about the modern world, in traditional ‘hard sci-fi’ style, and giving us a visual feast.
On just one watch I’m not sure how successful it is in making its point but it certainly raises plenty of thoughts and questions, particularly around humankind’s relationship with, and place in, the natural world.
Where the film does succeed entirely is in its visuals.
With the psychedelic ‘shimmer’ as its starting point it builds as it goes on in both beauty and horror in a way that is, at points, truly astonishing, from brightly coloured mutated flowers and trees to grotesquely warped humans and animals leading to a visually stunning denouement that pulls on everything from HR Giger to Cronenberg to Kubrick and a lot more.
Annihilation then, while strangely hyped ahead of its release, partly down to the Netflix debate, may not be an entirely successful film but certainly sets the mind racing with questions in a way that could see it compared to the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, while providing some visuals that do more than many of the far higher budget more obviously fantastic fare ever seem to manage.