Annihilation (2018)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/4/18
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac

An object from space crashes into a lighthouse and starts mutating its surroundings. Its area of influence is called "the Shimmer", and no one who has investigated it has returned. The latest team to enter the Shimmer is a group of five female scientists, and they become immediately disoriented when they arrive. They encounter signs of a previous expedition, and what they left behind is far too horrible for rational minds to comprehend. But that's okay, because the women's minds won't be rational for long as the effects of the Shimmer take hold. Will they discover the secrets of the Shimmer before it's too late?

The all-female cast is wonderful, and the characters are all smart, sexy, and full of conviction. The performances are great, and the entire production is overwhelmed with dread, confusion, fear, and madness. As one of the characters puts it, "it's like the onset of dementia." The visual effects are excellent and the art direction gets increasingly trippy as the story progresses. Some of the effects are frightfully and distastefully gruesome, and the extreme graphic violence ensures the film's R rating. The film also features some misplaced and unnecessary sex and nudity, which serves no purpose and just muddles the story. The action scenes are sparse and minimalistic, but well-executed and appropriate for the setting. The writing is smart, but the pacing is painfully sluggish and the film nearly collapses under the weight of its own vague weirdness. Many of the film's key moments drag on way too long, and the confusing and convoluted climax is the worst offender. The story ends with no resolution and we're left with just as many questions as we started with. Everything is told from Lena's perspective as a series of embedded flashbacks, but that structure doesn't do the film any favors and seems to just make the narrative even more fractured. Perhaps that's a reflection of her own fractured mind? Given her experiences, she may not be a reliable narrator, which adds another wrinkle to the plot. It's a disturbing and unsettling film that's neither what I was expecting or hoping for, but fans of meditative science fiction and extraterrestrial horror should find something to like about it.