From Alex Garland, the writer of one of my favorite movies, 28 Days Later. I wanted to be biased for this film.
Biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) goes through a mysterious shimmering wall in search of answers as to what it is and what it did to her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac). Lots of super weird things happen that are ostensibly explained through the imagery of a cell replicating and an overarching idea of biology blending inside "The Shimmer." In the end she more or less knows what happened to her husband due to some videos he shot while inside, and even gets him back, but overall the mystery is little more than an occasionally creepy or cool roller coaster of disappointments.
|Whenever a Why is explained about The Shimmer, it's not a revelation. It's just ... "Oh ok."|
I don't mind it out of principle. I'm totally okay with a movie not explaining itself, or using an umbrella explanation like "this unexplainable thing is making unexplainable things happen." I quite enjoyed it earlier this year when The Cloverfield Paradox utilized it. The two were received like polar opposites, but from my seat -- at home on my couch -- they're remarkably similar. Annihilation felt very much like a Netflix film -- in both the good way and the bad. Bad in that it was less than advertised, and good in that it was an original and well-assembled film.
It has practiced pacing, a slow increase of tension throughout, and a firm grip on how to build a quality moment. Each one gets ruined later of course. Sometimes preemptively through flash-forward interrogation scenes. It's like the exposition scenes are there because there was no confidence in the audience's ability to understand visual storytelling. The dialogue is reiteration of what we've seen but simplified; making it all feel mundane. But the curious moments in and of themselves work well. Disregarding the glaring soft white light, the cinematography is thoughtful and fits the style, and there are moments when the score is mesmerizing.
|I presume the idea was the lights and colors were blended like everything in The Shimmer -- a neat idea in theory, but visually unpleasant. It gave an eye-ache.|
It's in the details that the movie most shows signs of life. Though many moments were ruined by the too-revealing trailer, including the return of the bear. Though it having Sheppard's voice was still a wonderfully disturbing feature. Also interesting: the guy who'd grown into the wall like a clicker from The Last of Us, the tree people, Kane's bear-rose tattoo, Lena's tattoo which appears on her arm and is also visible on Anya and Last of Us Dude; and the end sequence was extremely unusual to say the least. Things like the tattoos are just tidbits. Others like Dude and the trees are explained in ways that sucks out all the wonder while never satisfying your curiosity.
"Everything gets blended." Great, cool idea, but that's not an explanation, it's just a description of the result. Why? How? Is it good or bad? Why should we care? Scientific terms are used, but it's not challenging to understand. This movie was advertised like another Interstellar; promising mind-bending, science-y scifi. It spends half its time in exposition, but it never goes deeper than the main idea. I can't have my mind blown over the same thing twice, no matter how many times its illustrated. And they introduce many potentially strange things, only to explain them away in the same disengaging way over and over.
|The rules were all-encompassing, so I accepted everything that happened unfazed.|
The movie falters equally as a horror film, for the same reasons -- less than advertised, and lack of exploration leaves potentially disturbing elements as merely weird, so the terrifying things such as the bear are left as fleeting external threats. It's unclear if the alien being was meant to be viewed as a threat. Characters talk about it in an understanding way, but it's pattern is one of causing death, and the film ends with Lena tricking it into self-destructing instead of herself self-destructing for it. The Shimmer still exists inside Lena and Kane, so presumably it lives on -- but if it's a representation of self-destruction, isn't that bad?
"It wasn't destroying. It was making something new." "Making what?" "I don't know." That exchange sums up everything. We're meant to look at it positively but are given no reason why. Not even a vague one that invites interpretation. It seems to clash with the film's theme of self-destruction and replication. There's also a cancer thread that goes maddeningly unexplored. The movie only ever points out things; details that tie together into a meaningless theme. It's all very tidy and interesting, but at some point, I need satisfaction, and something concrete to hold on to.
|"Kind of a lame movie." -- My Dad. It's not that it lacks the proper features; it just doesn't work them properly.|
As a drama, it's weird and very hit-or-miss. I liked what the actresses did to give an extra smidgen of personality to their characters, but the supporters are given one or two lines of exposition dialogue as their character development, and it doesn't go far. I liked Sheppard's quiet, matter-of-fact manner. And a clear thematic reason for all the cancer mentioned was missed. Oscar Isaac and Natalie Portman are good together. So good that I found it a stretch that she'd cheat on him. The idea is introduced that self-destruction is in our DNA, so she can't help it, but the ending was meant to counter that, I believe.
Never lacking something odd to look at, the main fault I have with Annihilation is that I looked hard for answers to the mysteries beneath the oddities, and the hidden intelligence I thought I'd been promised; I was prepared and ready to have my mind challenged, but I never found anything inside to interpret. It was all a pretty shell; and when laid bare, the fascination crumbles.