A strange shimmering field grows out from a source located in a lighthouse at the centre of the zone. The teams that are sent in never come back. The zone is growing bigger, at this rate it won’t be long before the continent is enveloped by it. The cause needs to be investigated and a solution found to stop it. Or the world could face… Annihilation!
The cinematography wasn’t great and the general film quality comes across as below standard at points. I’m not sure if this is expected from Netflix exclusive films, perhaps they are usually under some specific constraints which results in things being rushed or corners cut to save money. Why I say this is because some parts are really well done and planned. Then there are parts which just cut all over the place, and not in a creative way to imply confusion in the characters. An example of this is where one of the team is snatched up by a bear creature as they form to investigate the disturbance as a group. It’s noticeable throughout the film and it’s quite distracting.
The core team that goes out to investigate the lighthouse at the centre of the zone are all female. Making the core cast, and majority of everyone in the film a female. I actually don’t support forcing gender into roles for the sake of it. I think it is cringy in say a film, and potentially a hindrance in professional fields. What I mean by this is, if it is taken to far and females are given precedence over males purely because they are female, and the role holds no real advantage to a female. I’m completely fine with it here though. In fact, I didn’t even consciously note they were all female until one of the team mentions it near the beginning. The reasoning they raise to why they are all female isn’t very convincing, and it would have better been left unmentioned to be honest. I think it is plausible an all female team formed naturally for one of the teams entering the zone, so it works fine.
I wonder how long the team were in the shimmer.
I don’t have too much to say on the majority of the film. It feels like it is mainly concerned with building up towards the ending of the movie. There are some visually stimulating scenes as they travel deeper into the zone, scenes of the crew discussing their past and their speculations on the mystery of the zone. Then there are a few action scenes involving mutated animals. I’m glad the film wasn’t just a non-stop action flick. The director Alex Garland balances this in a tasteful way I feel. I think he typically uses a few intense action scenes which are well placed and valuable to the story. The scene in the house with the mutant boar is especially well done, it’s tense and does a great job of adding the ‘horror’ element. This is largely achieved with the morphed sounds the boar creature is making.
I was not really impressed or convinced with the explanation for the mutations occurring within the zone. The idea is that rather than just forms of energy refracting as it travels, within the zone much more refracts. The team hypothesize that thoughts and DNA are refracting within the environment. Resulting in physical mutations of combined animals, like a crocodile with shark teeth. Also mental changes occur as the people’s thoughts and feelings mix, largely just resulting in confusion.
I liked the ending. I was expecting to be disappointed by what was found in the lighthouse but it was extremely well done. The geometric patterns, electronic sounds and mystery surrounding the core was gripping. When the humanoid was formed, I was a bit confused with how it was mirroring the protagonists movements. It is either not strictly mirroring her or is not mirroring her correctly. I’m guessing it’s the former, and the humanoid is just compelled to mirror her most the time because… of refraction? Could probably analyse it deeply but I feel there isn’t enough to go from to be sure.
I didn’t like how the ending played out though. It just seems a bit of a quick and easy conclusion for the sake of it. A Phosphorus grenade is all that’s needed to burn the creature and the whole lighthouse to the ground after all that? It wasn’t challenging and seemed like a cheap exit to it all. I guess the woman could have been facing a greater mental battle than shown. I don’t think it was ever going to end well by removing the lighthouse threat at the end. It would take an extremely clever sequence to be even satisfying. So I think it would have been best to leave it unexplained. Good horror leaves much unknown. And only an excellent explanation is any better, and the one given in this case isn’t good enough in my opinion. It would have been safer to leave it a mystery. Not that there wasn’t some ambiguity to the very ending, especially concerning the identity of the Natalie Portman.
I think to really get into the some of the deeper meaning and subtleties the film presents, I would have to analyse it a further. Meaning I’d have to give it another watch and maybe take a look at the book. Which I think I will do at some point, and follow up with another blog post.
I have learnt after seeing the film that it is actually based on a book. The book with the same name was released in 2014 and is the first book of three in a series called the Southern Reach Trilogy. A few comments on reddit suggested that the film misses/avoids some key details which they thought were important. This got me interested, and so I think I’m going to get the book and give it a read. On the amazon page a reviewer described it as something like a LSD fueled FPS adventure. This has fully convinced me, if any book was given a description like that I think I’d have to give it a read!
I enjoyed Annihilation. The core concepts were cool. I love the zone, sanity, strange environments and exploration of a physical place and mind. I thought that the majority of the film was let down by general filming quality but the last qaurter was done extremely well, and just let down a bit at the very conclusion. It was funky, weird in an other worldy, un-explainable way. I think it would have been better to leave the end a little more vague than it was. I appreciate stories that go out there though, and I feel this could have been a masterpiece. It had almost everything that it needed to for me. Just needed a better standard and polish and a bangin ending. I will be giving the book a read, hoping it will extend the theme and some of the unexplained background as the film rushes through it.
I admire Alex Garland, he seems to be pushing boundaries past safe story telling. However, I feel he goes too far with the plot sometimes and follows up with too much detail to explain things. I feel like it dilutes the complexity and mystery. I thought the same of Ex-machina, where they go into detail explaining how the AI works. I look forward to more from him and will keep an eye out for anything he is involved in.