Beautiful bizarre: ‘Annihilation’ mixes sci-fi horror with art house sensibilities

Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotnyin Annihilation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

4 out of 5 Stars
Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland (screenplay), Jeff VanderMeer (novel)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Rated: R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality

Synopsis: Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist with a military background, volunteers for an expedition into an area known as “The Shimmer,” a mysterious zone that has formed around a lighthouse that was struck by an asteroid.

Review: I imagine that “Annihilation” is going to be the sort of film that is praised by critics and cinephiles and utterly lambasted by audiences that go in expecting a high-paced sci-fi adventure.

“Annihilation” is not an action film. Its narrative unravels at a very slow and deliberate pace and doesn’t spoon feed the audience information. Its rather ambiguous ending is likely to frustrate many.

However, those willing to sit back and observe will be rewarded with a unique movie experience is often as beautiful as it is horrific.

So, what is “Annihilation” exactly? I’d call it a character drama that is accented by intense moments of violence and horror that are as frightening as anything I’ve seen in a film. It is as if Terrence Malick decided to combine elements from his films “The Thin Red Line” and “Tree of Life” to remake John Carpenter’s “The Thing” after rediscovering Ridley Scott’s “Alien.” It’s the sort of film that you either want to watch again immediately, or never see again in your whole life.

I would fall into the group that would have stuck around for an encore screening.

The film is anchored by great performances by Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny, Gina Rodriguez, and Tessa Thompson, the glorious cinematography by Rob Hardy, Alex Garland’s direction and the sort of jaw dropping art design that gives the world of “The Shimmer” such a distinct look and feel. There are shots, both gruesome and breathtaking, that will stay with me for years to come.

I do have a couple narrative nitpicks, but there’s nothing here that kept me from being completely entranced.

It’s not nearly as accessible or as thought provoking as Garland’s excellent directorial debut “Ex Machina,” but I still found “Annihilation” to be a haunting slice of cinema.

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