dir. Alex Garland
R / 1h 55m / Drama, Horror, Adventure
If I let you go, are you going to tie me to a chair and cut me open? Are my insides going to move like my fingertips?
I am back, y’all. Hello! It has been three very long years and I have a back log of films to write about. Welcome! Stay awhile!
When I think over the last three years on films that left an impression on me, this one always comes first. Why? It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before or even fathomed. It’s a new thought brought to a visual and is equally intriguing and horrifying and beautiful and awful. When I’m watching it, I feel like I shouldn’t be watching it, or that I’m too human to be watching it, or that I’m not alien enough to be watching it, or that it’s all a bad, beautiful dream. It honestly leaves me sick to my stomach, but also completely inspired.
This review will probably contain spoilers. Then again, this film is over 2 years old so will it really?
Plot: An army vet turned biology academic finds herself in grief after losing her husband to a secret mission and is unable to gain closure. A year later he’s back, but he’s different, and soon after he acts weird and his health declines, Lena (Portman) finds herself among a team women with nothing to lose, lost in a world changing by the second in search for answers.
We can start with the human aspect of this film – grief. Emptiness. I’m sure by now that most of us have felt these in our bones, and found ourselves actual shells of ourselves. Sometimes, when you have nothing, you’ll do anything. And that’s okay – anything to feel amiright? So we can absolutely understand Lena and her current situation, her choices, and her drive.
This story is told in a mostly linear format. We have flash backs and flash forwards to aid the conclusion and holes in the past, which is fine. Sometimes the way a story is told can affect how it’s perceived. In this case, you have to pay attention to small details to really experience the impact of the flash forwards and tie them into the main story. This may take more than one watch. I recommend that anyway.
So as I said before, Lena’s husband, Kane (Isaac), whom she thought was absolutely dead shows up in their old bedroom a year later. She is in disbelief and is asking for answers, none of which he has. He doesn’t remember anything, he doesn’t feel like himself. It’s kind of heartbreaking. Next thing we know, he’s ill as hell and they’re on a military base in the middle of bum fuck Egypt.
We meet the team of bad ass women, all scientists, all incredible! We also meet the Shimmer. An aptly named growing bubble of insanity stemming from a lighthouse by the sea. It is engulfing everything. Nothing that goes in comes back out. Except Kane. But we all know how that is going.
The Shimmer is… really haunting… and really beautiful. Nature is going nuts. There are flowers everywhere, mutated animals, twisty trees, and crystalized things. There are also horrors – most notably this insane bear that is half skeleton and has human screams coming out of its mouth and also this poor soul that was killed and his body grew into what looks like an oversized mold culture with beautiful, vibrant colors but it’s got this air of overwhelming death and it’s truly something you’ll never forget in a gross and scary way. There are crocodiles with millions of teeth, there are human shaped trees. There is an iridescent sheen to everything. It’s inescapable.
The Shimmer doesn’t allow normalcy. It gets inside you, then it spreads you around. It mixes you with the environment until you go insane and become it. It destroys you, yet is creating something new. This has been the fate of the previous teams. This becomes the fate of most of this team. But does this not seem natural? More on that later.
It’s not like us… it’s unlike us. I don’t know what it wants, or if it wants, but it will grow until it encompasses everything. Our bodies and our minds will be fragmented into their smallest parts until not one part remains… Annihilation.
At the center is the lighthouse. and at the end is really uncomfortable cinema.
To put this lightly, imagine watching your life explode and be replaced with something alien. Imagine trying to leave as yourself, but not with one ounce of who you thought you were when you entered. Imagine this journey culminating with a completely indescribable experience that crushes everything you thought you knew about being a human on this earth. What do you do with that? What can you do with that? I loved this scene. It made me feel icky, it was creepy and dreamy and the score was PERFECT. Then it’s over and the end leaves a healthy amount of speculation.
So now to the alien part of it. What is truly alien? To be alien is to be foreign. That’s it. And being foreign can be as simple as visiting someone’s home, or as outlandish as being from another universe. In all truth, we are all foreign to this world and nature is not. Perspective is everything. What if nature started to reclaim? What if our DNA got scrambled and made us more like the environment? Would this not simply be course correction? I like to think about this. But also, how far from the truth is it that our DNA is so similar already that scrambling it among us wouldn’t even change anything?
I like to think that our bodies return to the earth and nourish the environment when we die. By that logic we are less alien than we feel sometimes. That can be comforting for some of you that are on an existential spiral right now.
Annihilation is an amazing visual journey into our relationship with our surroundings, the fragility of our minds, and our perceptions of reality regarding what it means to be alien. We travel through our lives changing constantly; we are not as we were when we wore born. But is it the destruction of who we once were? No, we are the same, just new by way of environment. It is sad and beautiful. It happens to us all.
What was I? Was I you? Were you me? My flesh moves like liquid. My mind is cut loose.
8.5/10 – I will always think of you, Shimmer, while blowing bubbles with my child.