Adapted from Jeff VanderMeer’s best-selling novel, Annihilation is the newest film from writer/director, Alex Garland. Though previously known for his screenwriting, having penned a number of award-winning sci-fi films such as 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go, Garland made a big splash in 2015 for his directorial debut, Ex Machina. Garland’s newest endeavor follows a group of scientists who venture into a kaleidoscopic no man’s land, full of bizarre plants and dangerous creatures.
Though marketed as an epic thriller, the final result is much more cerebral. The journey of the film is largely defined by the characters’ investigation of the unknown, both inside and outside of their bodies. While this investigation is sometimes visual, a lot of it is internal, coming out through dialogue rather than action. If that sounds vague and confusing, that’s because it is. Annihilation, despite its many thrilling moments, is more Blade Runner than Alien. These distinct narrative elements all begin with Garland’s script, which is a massive departure from its source material. The plot of the film is altogether different from the novel, save for the overarching premise. While many adaptations fail in their efforts to include everything from a work, Garland’s succeeds due to his liberal reimagining. VanderMeer’s novel is essentially unadaptable, so Garland has taken VanderMeer’s outline and themes and condensed them for a prime, 2-hour excursion.
With that being said, Annihilation is not a perfect film. It lacks certain nuances and complexities that are present in the novel, and its characters, while interesting, are mostly undeveloped. For the impatient viewer, Annihilation could feel like an epic waste of time. However, the most unfortunate thing about Annihilation is the fact that many viewers will not be able to see it in a theaters, due to the much buzzed about Netflix international distribution deal. Even from the opening moments of the film, it is clear that Garland demands this movie to be seen in a theater, perhaps even multiple times. Annihilation’s combination of immersive sound and visuals is what going to the theater is truly about. Annihilation is eerie, frightening, beautiful, and features one of the most WTF film moments of recent memory. I am definitely going to see this movie again before it leaves theaters and, if you live in North America or China, you should too. ★★★★