Alex Garland's ANNIHILATION Is Visually Stunning And Unfathomably Dull

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ANNIHILATION starts 2/23/18.

Alex Garland, who received a lot of praise for his first directorial effort, Ex Machina (2015) and wrote and produced one of my favorite comic book adaptations with Dredd (2012), is a way ahead of me. I like to think I’m a pretty sharp guy. I can usually spot the twist nobody saw coming just before everyone else. I generally am aware of the nuanced use of the color palette and lighting to achieve mood and heighten tension.  I can appreciate a slow, thoughtful pace. I most certainly can applaud the predominant casting of strong, capable women in this film. Yet I cannot even begin to tell you what Garland’s latest picture, Annihilation, is really about. I just can’t. I didn’t get it. I mean, virtually none of it. So this is going to be one strange flick to discuss.

Let me start with what I did enjoy. Natalie Portman has been a favorite of mine since she starred in Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional. She plays Lena, a former Army soldier turned biologist who leads a team of women into a strange environmental hot zone. A strange object had hit the earth sometime before and rather than explode on impact it creates this area where the trees are turned crystalline, the plants and animals are mutated and the whole thing shimmers like oil on a wet driveway. Humans are affected too, and Lena’s military husband Kane, played by Oscar Isaac, comes home from his own mission into “The Shimmer” as a shell of the man he was when he left.  The women accompanying Lena are all somewhat damaged as well. Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Josie Radek (Thor: Ragnarok’s Tessa Thompson), Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) all of their reasons for going on this likely suicidal mission. Quite honestly I couldn’t tell you how they actually got included, and I may well have dozed off. The scenes in The Shimmer are a kaleidoscope of bright colors, looking the way Willy Wonka would design his own private forest. The languid pacing and unnatural scenery seemed to have a narcoleptic effect on me.

By the end, I was wide awake and completely bewildered. Clearly there was some alien force at work here, and it affected the team in various brutal ways, but it was hardly“annihilation.” Motivations seemed murky, and there didn’t seem to be any clear declaration of what the point of everything was. Based on the first book of a trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, I presume the point of the whole plot gets revealed in the novel, at least. Was this a story of man verses nature? Man verses himself? There were action sequences and gruesome metamorphoses and I still don’t know what the point of any of it is. I will try not to spoil anything for the curious, but I can’t endorse a film I can’t comprehend. If you can’t make me care about the protagonist early on, I lose all interest in your message. Annihilation was as hard for me to grasp as Star Wars: The Last Jedi was for me to like. I’m sure the other critics you follow will rave about the film, its lush visuals, its pretty special effects, and the female-dominant casting. I’ll stick to watching people get picked off one by one in a more easily comprehended fashion, like Clue. I’ll guess it was the alien, in the kitchen, with the rope, pretending to by Col. Mustard. If you’re on the fence about seeing Annihilation, I apologize, but I can’t help you this time. The only thing I got out of it was a strong desire to leave early. Some viewers will undoubtedly love it, and some, like me, will never find the heart of the story underr all the visual pizzazz. 

1.5 / 5.0