dir-scr Alex Garland
prd Eli Bush, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Scott Rudin
with Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, David Gyasi, Benedict Wong, Josh Danford, Sammy Hayman, Sonoya Mizuno, John Schwab
release US 23.Feb.18, UK 12.Mar.18
18/UK Paramount 1h55
Into the shimmer: Leigh, Portman, Novotny, Thompson and Rodriguez

isaac gyasi wong
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Annihilation A thoughtful tone and darkly intriguing ideas make this ambitious sci-fi adventure worth a look. It might be a bit slow and deliberate for some viewers, and filmmaker Alex Garland is more interested in raising questions than offering conclusions. But he also beautifully subverts cliches of both fantasy and horror genres, making a film that gets under the skin to properly freak us out.

After a year, biology professor Lena (Portman) is still struggling with the loss of her soldier husband Kane (Isaac) when he suddenly appears at home. Moments later, they're secreted to a government base, where Lena discovers that Kane was deeply injured on a mission into the "shimmer", a growing zone of freaky phenomena caused by some sort of meteor-bourne infection. Needing to know more, Lena joins a mission with psychiatrist Ventress (Leigh), paramedic Anya (Rodriguez), physicist Josie (Thompson) and geologist Cassie (Novotny). But once they go inside, they're not sure what's real.

The trip into this swirling fantasia is a headtrip for both the characters and audience, as the quietly emotive atmosphere shifts into pulsing suspense, like a slow-burn Vietnam movie with four women heading down the rabbit hole. Garland shoots this beautifully, with mostly subtle effects, gentle currents of flashbacks and some jagged, witty moments of realism. Essentially a horror film, it also continually jolts the audience without indulging in cheap scare tactics.

Portman gives Lena a deeper, darker back-story than expected. Her inner turmoil is vivid, as is her need to understand exactly what this place is doing to plant and animal DNA. Each of the women on this team has her own issues, which feed into the film's increasingly unsettling rhythms. Their reactions to everything around them is a nice mix of dreamy wonder and nightmarish hallucinations. Isaac is also terrific in a series of cutaways that are alternatingly sweet and creepy.

There are a lot of big ideas swirling around in this film, and Garland cleverly avoids becoming too obvious about any of them, almost to the point of leaving the film feeling rather obtuse. There are issues of identity at play here, along with an exploration of the connections between all living things. But the strongest mood relates to grief and loneliness, something all of the characters exude in distinct ways. And while continually disorienting us with what's happening, Garland uses the emotions to boldly push the film to a super-bonkers finale that has hints of Kubrick's 2001.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 26.Feb.18

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