‘Annihilation’ Movie Review: Equal Parts Gorgeous and Gruesome

Writer/director Alex Garland follows up his 2014 critically acclaimed feature film directorial debut, Ex Machina, with 2018’s Annihilation. Annihilation solidifies Garland’s status as one of the most talented new directors working in the sci-fi genre. Garland’s Ex Machina was made on a budget of $15 million, grossed $36+ million before exiting theaters, and earned two Oscar nominations, winning in the Best Achievement in Visual Effects category. If the Academy voters were impressed with what Garland accomplished visually in his first film, they’ll be blown away by what he’s accomplished (with a larger budget) in Annihilation.

Annihilation is stunningly beautiful, filled with a psychedelic, swirling kaleidoscope of colors. The effects will transport you into this terrifying world and the intriguing assortment of characters will keep you engaged for two hours.

Annihilation is a riveting mix of the fantastically beautiful with the horrific and terrifying. The film’s smart and challenges the audience to remain involved with every element of the story, requiring viewers to pay attention to the slightest details as they’re all placed within the story for a reason. There’s not a single wasted frame or unnecessary line of dialogue in Annihilation, and in fact the quieter moments are some of the film’s most intense.

The sci-fi action thriller’s set in a world in which an unknown phenomenon that originated at a Florida lighthouse has spread throughout the surrounding forest, covering it with something akin to a force field. The government researchers have labeled this phenomenon The Shimmer, and it looks like a massive soap bubble that continuously shifts its position.

The military and other government agencies have attempted to penetrate The Shimmer to determine the cause but have failed in their excursions. Only one person has managed to come out of The Shimmer alive, however he’s unable to describe the experience. The sole survivor is Kane (Oscar Isaac), husband of Johns Hopkins University biologist/Army veteran, Lena (Natalie Portman).

Kane wanders into their home after not communicating with the outside world for one year, unable to explain where he’s been or how he got home.
Their reunion is short-lived as Kane is suffering from multiple organ failure and is near death when the military swoops in and picks up the just-reunited couple.

With her husband in critical condition, Lena demands to know what’s going on and requests to be let in on the top-secret operation that caused Kane’s medical condition. She quickly volunteers to accompany a squad (that just happens to be made up of only women) into The Shimmer so she can attempt to understand what her husband experienced in the hope of returning with information that might save his life.

Each of the intelligent, fierce women in the squad have their own academic specialties and are crucial to the mission’s task of determining the source of The Shimmer. However, no one in the squad is prepared for what they’ll encounter once they’ve entered the bizarre, constantly evolving world within The Shimmer.

The Shimmer effects and the flora and fauna under the bubble are incredible visual achievements. Writer/director Garland and his talented crew have created an immersive, breathtaking world full of bizarre creatures, some terrifying and some seeming to spring from mythology to life. The world under The Shimmer also includes strange, glorious trees and plants, including plants that appear to have taken human form.

The science behind the evolutionary changes within The Shimmer is explained in detail, with the squad discovering alterations to DNA that caused hybrids as well as entirely new forms of life. Biologists will have a field day dissecting the scientific explanations in the film, but fortunately those of us who aren’t so academically-inclined will still be able to grasp the fundamentals.

Natalie Portman leads a terrific cast that includes Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the members of the squad who volunteer for what’s likely a suicide mission. It’s fascinating how the world of The Shimmer interacts with each squad member, seemingly judging their strengths and reacting to their weaknesses.

Annihilation is intense and the jump-scares come frequently enough to leave you on edge waiting for the next terrifying moment to arrive. There are gruesome scenes and moments of wondrous beauty, and throughout the story there’s always a level of darkness and foreboding. Garland doesn’t allow much breathing room for the audience as he delivers one twist after another in this remarkable sci-fi thriller.


MPAA Rating: R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

Directed By: Alex Garland

Based on the Book By: Jeff VanderMeer

Release Date: February 23, 2018

Annihilation Movie Review
Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny in ‘Annihilation’ from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.