Annihilation

Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson in Annihilation.

Help me, I’m being attacked by the inside of a lava lamp! Or something along those lines. It’s kind of like John Carpenter’s The Thing, only mopier. It’s hard to describe the look of the encounters. I can assure you that something else is in the forest, which the scientists and military leaders dub the place “The Shimmer” because the place shimmers.

In Annihilation, the government is investigating what “The Shimmer” is and what they do. What exactly is “The Shimmer?"  So far the government has sent a series teams to find out. When the first team is retrieved and they are all dead.

And so of course, the government does what governments do and sends in another team and another team, all meeting the same fate. But, this time they're sending in all females.

The current team includes our main character, Lena (Natalie Portman), a former biologist and wife of Kane (Oscar Isaac). Kane had entered The Shimmer on an earlier expedition only to return home 12 months later completely changed and seemingly on his death bed. 

The team also includes Anya, a tough paramedic from Chicago (Gina Rodriguez from Jane the Virgin), physicist, Josie (Tessa Thompson also of the new Thor movie and Westworld), anthropologist, Cass (Tuva Novotny) and Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the leader of the group, a psychologist who likes to stay relatively unknown.  

Annihilation teams Oscar Isaac up with writer-director Alex Garland for the second time. Their previous collaboration was 2015’s Ex Machina. Annihilation marks Garland’s first attempt at adapting a 2014 trio of books by Jeff VandeerMeer, known as The Southern Reach Trilogy.

Critics in general have given the film high marks. I haven’t.  

Ex Machina drew a lot of praise and made many top 10 lists. I enjoyed most of it. Annihilation is receiving reviews that are nearly as good. But I am not fond of it. With both films, I enjoyed the performances and was fascinated by the visuals. To be fair, I must note, mine is a minority opinion. One final note, some surveys of patrons leaving the theater seem to indicate that paying customers are not thrilled with this movie.

The film is focusing on the self-destructive aspects of mankind and the world in general and we are along for the self-destructive ride. It's focus on self-annihilation (get it?) as opposed to human touches, is in itself a self-destructive aspect of the film.

Human touches? I wish there were more human interactions because human interaction does not describe yelling at one another and cursing the powers that be.

Bottom line: There is good stuff in Annihilation for those willing to meet the filmmakers’ more than halfway. The concept is intriguing but slow and dull during sections that should not be dull.  

Overall, despite The Shimmer, this movie certainly doesn't shine. 

Note: There were problems galore assembling this review. Many thanks to Shelley and Kurt McCleery. 

Watch the Annihilation trailer below. 

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Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.