This is going to be divisive, let me warn you of that. My thoughts here are entirely my own and I’m still not quite sure where I fall but I’m going to do my best to outline what I’m thinking and why this is so complicated.
Annihilation is a movie that makes you think. The studios know this isn’t ideal for a mainstream release and they have very little faith that the movie can break even, so they sold the international distribution rights to Netflix, meaning that it’ll release in the US, Canada, and China in theaters, but in other countries including the UK and Australia, it will be streaming on Netflix in just a few weeks.
Is that concern valid? Is this movie too smart for the people watching it?
The movie opens with a comet crashing into Earth, through a lighthouse. This site becomes the beginning of a slowly widening circle called the Shimmer, which slowly mutates everything inside it. We follow Lena (Natalie Portman) as her husband has just returned from the Shimmer (Oscar Isaac) but he’s very sick and the answer to how to fix him may be inside. She goes along with a crew of scientists to find out what’s happening. With her on this adventure is Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny.
This is a movie that will be debated and discussed for many years. I don’t think it’s as good as Ex Machina, director Alex Garland’s first feature film, but this movie possibly offers up more points of conversation afterwards. It doesn’t give you many answers and it doesn’t end in a way that many of you will like. The last 10 minutes or so is like the movie becomes (or mutates if you will) something else entirely. If you’re the type of person to love deep movies that you have to rewatch to really understand, this movie will offer up plenty. If you want escapism and a clearcut finale, this won’t do it at all.
The entire adventure is carried by Natalie Portman, who delivers a stellar performance, though incredibly subtle and nuanced. The supporting cast all get a chance to shine, including against-type performances from Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson.
While not a person, the Shimmer itself is almost a character here, shaping and mutating the world in interesting (and terrifying) ways. The design here is spectacular, as these horrors come to life with vivid colors and nightmare-inducing images. There is a mutated bear that appears and the scene is gripping, though the movie really only has a few moments of any action whatsoever. When these moments do happen, they literally had me on the edge of my seat.
The climax of the movie is the controversial bit. I can’t tell you why, but it’s incredibly interesting, as you stare at what’s happening and try to understand it. This film is based on a book and they called the book impossible to adapt. This finale is likely why, as it’s a trip, bending reality and what we think we know. You’ll react one of two ways. You might love it, you might gasp and stare as you try to make sense of it, and you might have hours of talking points once the credits roll. Or, like my initial reaction, you’ll tilt your head and say “What?” I wasn’t impressed, I thought the ending was messy and confusing. But I was convinced, through a long conversation about the finale. It was maybe meant to be confusing and maybe it was meant to be weird and meant to be unexplainable. After talking about it, I’ve come around on this movie, but some of you won’t. Some of you will understand what it was trying to do but think it failed in how it did it, and I can totally see that perspective. For me, the finale was bonkers but ultimately fitting of the movie it was a part of.
The biggest thing, following what I just said, is some of you won’t buy this. You won’t be on board, you’ll find the movie slow and boring, and the nonsensical finale will upset you. Maybe even anger you. I can’t speak to how you’ll react, so know this movie is a risk going in.
On a technical level, there were some odds and ends that didn’t come together for me. The editing was jarring (maybe intentionally) and a few action scenes felt underwhelming because of that. They were over before they really got a chance to shock and awe us. The music was also a little too soothing for my taste, combined with a slow pacing that almost put me to sleep. I blame this on seeing the movie too late at night.
I need you to know this score is how I feel and not necessarily how you’ll feel. This movie is a little slow and the action is a little rare. It’s a character piece that Natalie Portman carries completely, with an ending that defies explanation and gives you very little real answers. Some of you will flock to message boards or make reaction videos and gather around the water cooler. Some of you will scoff and say this is the worst movie you’ve ever seen. The spectrum of reaction here is vast. For me, I found it worthwhile though my reaction was very negative as I walked out of the theater. Hold your gut instinct for a bit and let the movie simmer for a bit, you might find plenty to think on.