Friday, March 16, 2018

Annihilation (2018) Film Review

 (2018) follows Lena (Natalie Portman), a biology professor at Johns Hopkins, who's mourning the loss of her military husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac) who never returned from a top secret mission. A year on from his strange disappearance, he returns home, but something is very different about him; he doesn't remember anything about the mission he underwent and then he starts coughing up blood... It isn't long until they're both taken to Area X and Lena learns that Kane has been inside the 'Shimmer' - a visually beautiful, translucent dome that formed around a lighthouse three years ago. Scientists are eager to discover what's inside but anyone that's attempted to find out, never returns - that is, apart from Kane. In the hopes of finding out what has happened to her husband and maybe even cure him, Lena volunteers to join Josie (Tessa Thompson), Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Anya (Gina Rodriguez) and Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) on the all-female expedition into "The Shimmer".

is based on the first of Jeff VanderMeer's 'Southern Reach' trilogy and although I personally haven't read any of them, it's been said that the film bares very little resemblance from the original source, which has left a lot of people a little disappointed. Alex Garland pretty much took the original theme and with the inspiration of the likes of Stanley Kubrick, John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, he made it completely his own, with some unique ideas and visuals.

What initially drew me to the film was firstly, the fact that Natalie Portman was the lead (If you know me personally, you'll know how much of a huge fan of hers I am) and secondly, that the quintet that undergoes the mission of entering 'The Shimmer' was made up completely of females and although in the film, it's not really made out to be  big deal, I just loved that so much and it really drew me in. Considering the current state of Hollywood, the timing was very important, I think it's exactly what we needed to hit cinemas. (Or Netflix, if you're not in the US, Canada or China)

As I'm someone that isn't always a huge lover of sci-fi films and also, someone that shockingly has never seen Ex Machina, I really didn't know what to expect with Annihilation but I was so pleasantly surprised and I really enjoyed it. The film is absolutely beautiful; with incredible production and sound design, visuals and a haunting score. I'm not sure if I've ever watched a film with such breathtaking cinematography and visuals. The attention to detail was incredible. However, something I did notice was how it wasn't your average science fiction film. If you're a person that enjoys action scene, after action scene, you may find this a little bit slow-paced for your liking and you could end up a little disappointed. This is a film that is less about 'shooting the bad guys' and more of an artistic science fiction film, that focuses on the intelligent women and how they deal with the creative premise. The performances throughout were all pretty good but Natalie Portman's performance really stood out to me and I almost feel like she carried the whole film but I guess I could just be biased.  

The last 20 minutes of this film are absolutely WILD. I have never been so mesmerised by a film's visual effects, it's so incredible. The ending is something that seems to divide viewers because it's not the climatic fight that you might expect to find in this type of film and the very end is simply left down to interpretation and I know a lot of people may end up feeling unsatisfied by this.

One of my favourite things about film is dissecting the layers and trying to work out what it all means. Some films are quite clear with what they're saying and others are left down to interpretation, which I absolutely adore because it allows us film fans to have discussions about how we interpreted things and Annihilation can be interpreted in a lot of different ways I think. (SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

Throughout the duration of the film, there was a very clear theme of self-destruction. Everyone that had chosen to enter 'The Shimmer' had gone through something very painful in their lives, whether it be the loss of a loved one, addiction, or another form of trauma; joining the expedition was a form of self-destruction, and the two quotes from the film "There's a difference between suicide and self-destruction." and "We're all damaged goods here." solidifies that.

There also seemed to be quite a few metaphors throughout and maybe they're just coincidence but here's what I picked up on my first watch through: 

'The Shimmer' is a metaphor for depression/mental illness? 

Once in The Shimmer, communication to the outside world is completely cut off and time becomes very warped, meaning that it's easy to lose days, weeks, or even months, isolated in a dissociated state. Sound familiar? Some enter The Shimmer because they want to finally get some answers but many will die before they discover what they need to. Others enter The Shimmer because the fight with their personal demons is over, they can't bare it anymore so they wait until their demons rip them apart (obviously in a more literal sense in Annihilation) I think it also could be seen that The Shimmer is all about personal change. We all get to a point in our lives where a major event changes everything we knew as normality and we have no choice but to succumb to the changes and become a new being or we'll fall apart with the self-destruction. It's like Lena said: "The Shimmer wasn't destroying, it was changing, making something new."

Another way of looking at this film could be that The Shimmer is a metaphor for disease, in particular, cancer. From the first scene with the diverting cancerous cells at John Hoskins to The Shimmer just appearing suddenly and mutating quickly and getting worse and worse as time goes on, which is reminiscent to the way tumours grow. We also see a flashback of Lena reading the book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" which is a story of a woman that died from cancer in the 20th century, but had her cervical cancer cells taken without her consent or knowledge for research purposes. And later on in the film we learn that Sheppard lost her daughter from Leukemia and even further on, we learn that Dr. Ventress currently has cancer herself, which was her reasoning for entering The Shimmer, she had nothing left to lose. There seems to be a lot of references (some that I've probably missed) that definitely alludes to cancer, in my opinion. 

I've also seen online that the five lead females may represent the five stages of grief.

Sheppard being denial
- We learn that her reasoning for entering the Shimmer was due to the fact that she had lost her daughter from 
Leukemia and the way she spoke about it suggested that she hadn't actually accepted it and was still in the denial stages of her grief. Acting on impulse and not dealing with her demons. 

Anya being anger - If you've seen Annihilation, this doesn't need elaborating. 

Radek being bargaining - We learn that Radek struggles with self-harm and wears long sleeves to cover her scars. You might assume that it's because she was suicidal but it's actually because she wanted to feel alive. From this information we can see that she's been bargaining for her life, wanting to finally feel alive, for a very long time and that's why she entered The Shimmer, to finally feel something. 

Ventress being depression - We learn that Ventress has no friends, no family and is dealing with a huge thing like dying from cancer and she's completely isolated, which is why entering The Shimmer didn't phase her because she knows that in the end, she will succumb to self-destruction, one way or another.

Lena being acceptance - Throughout the film, we see glimpses of Lena's past and learn that the reasoning behind her entering The Shimmer was because she felt like she owed her husband because he entered it after finding out she was cheating on him. By the end of the film, she finally has to face herself and accepts who she is and what has happened. 

I'm not sure if I totally believe it or if it's a little bit of a reach but you can decide for yourself whether you see it or not. Ultimately, I think this is a film that is very complex and has a lot to analyse and unpack. I think it's also one of those films that you need to watch a few times until you fully understand it. I still don't feel like I completely know everything.

Another thing that completely caught me by surprise is how certain scenes were very reminiscent to my all-time favourite video game, The Last of Us; which made me extremely happy! A lot of the areas beyond 'The Shimmer' have that post-apocalyptic feeling and some pieces of the score had that acoustic feel to it which gave me those Joel and Ellie feels even more. Honestly, if we're ever going to get a Last of Us film, I would very much like Alex Garland to direct it pleaaaase. I've heard that Garland is a pretty big Last of Us fan so I think he'd be totally down.

Lastly, I just want to say that sci-fi films have never scared me in my life but that bear with the voice was absolutely terrifying and I don't think it'll ever leave my dreams. Horrific, I loved it so much. Definitely, give this a watch when you can! I'm so sad that I only got to view it on Netflix. This is definitely a film that should be viewed in a cinema, I think it would have amped everything up 100000%! If you've already watched Annihilation, please let me know what you thought of it in the comments! 

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