Along with Fight Club (David Fincher) and A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick,) Annihilation is one of only three movies I’d recommend watching before reading the book.
Where the other two have confusing prose, Annihilation is just a different story altogether. No - literally - the plot is completely different to that of the novel, so there’s no risk of spoilers. But the movie does several things far better than the book. It looks bloody stunning, it’s well performed and the world-building is enjoyable rather than usual sci-fi-tedious.
Like most action blockbusters of late, Annihilation has themes of the American-soldier-hero and the determined-widow, as Nat Portman sadbois her way through a jungle, reminiscing longingly about her long-gone husband (Oscar Issac). It also touches upon the ‘unknown enemy’ and a misplaced hubris in a dying world that humans no longer understand. It’s like, so 2018.
Although the cast play their parts well – the characters themselves lack anything interesting for the actors to play with. It really is a shame to see such a talented and accomplished cast teetering their way through a menu of clichés and exposition.
Some of you might cringe and clench at the awkwardly bad movie-science-explanations in the plot; but when taken non seriously, I managed to get by unharmed – you probably will too.
The strongest aspects for me were the set design and cinematography. Every location is stunningly beautiful with eerie, exquisite and grotesque sets. Every camera movement is vast, suffocating and strong. The Art direction is genuinely some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. In short, the film achieves everything that the books sloppy prose and poor world building doesn’t quite produce.
It doesn’t even matter that the film flirts somewhere between ‘horror’, ‘thriller’ and ‘eccentric dungeons and dragons campaign’. You can’t look away because the world is lush, vibrant and, well, basically fascinating. It’s the visual lovechild of an Avatar-style fantasy and a post-imperial adventure through the amazon.
Overall, the film is five-star watchable and three-star enjoyable. It’s definitely worth your time - if not for the actual film, for the money trail it represents.
Here’s why everyone should see this strange, elegant and speculative film:
Annihilation bypassed the cinemas in most countries and went straight to Netflix. It did so because, despite being of blockbuster cast and budget, Paramount Pictures thought it would bomb in the box office. It doesn’t have any of the hallmarks of a hit. It’s not a series or a sequel. It’s not a superhero movie. It’s not a family comedy, or a straight-up-horror that would sell tickets to teens.
It’s a weird, very pretty and a somewhat experimental film. It’s risky.
And that’s part of what makes this film so special, despite its flaws. Annihilation is a lot closer to a ‘cult classic’ than a flop. Its characters have backstory and motive; the structure leaves plenty up to the audience’s imagination and the ambiguity of the villains’ motives make it even scarier. All this backed by a beautiful guitar soundtrack that’s reminiscent of Joss Whedon’s Firefly.
Supporting this film by watching it (and probably not regretting it) is to support production studios into creating new stuff. Original stuff, interesting, experimental stuff.
Stuff that we haven’t seen before, and to open up the medium of film into an imaginative and experimental future. Check it now on Netflix.