R Dir: Alex Garland | Paramount | 1h 55min
Plot: What’s it about?
Annihilation is a film that surprised me by how much I enjoyed it. I saw it in theaters and it opened to some very strong reviews. It’s actually those reviews that got me to the theater to see it in the first place. The plot looked somewhat interesting to me, but I am not really a fan of this genre. I also tend to go the other way a lot of times with these films which are often praised by critics, but turn out to be quite dreadful. That’s not the case here as it really grabbed me early on and held my interest throughout. Another recent example of this happening is with A Quiet Place which also got under my skin and maintained my interest. While there are elements here that are clearly inspired by other films in the genre, this one more than stands on its own.
Based on the novel by Jeff Vandermeer, a “Shimmer” has developed and when teams research what’s inside it, they don’t return. That is mostly true as Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns home. He returns home to his wife Lena (Natalie Portman) who’s a biology professor and former soldier. Almost immediately she notices that something isn’t quite right with Kane. So while she’s happy and grateful he returned, there are indeed strange traits that have taken over Kane. Before long, Lena is recruited by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to go along with her and her team into the shimmer to try and find answers to what exactly is going on. We get a bit of early character development with Ventress and the others before they enter the shimmer, because once they do, strange things begin happening.
I was quick to go along with this film, because the central premise intrigued me. I cared enough to find out what exactly happened to Kane and I cared about what the team would encounter while in the shimmer. I won’t say it’s a perfect film, and I’m unsure exactly how I feel about the ending, but it manages to mix many genres into one and they all mostly succeed. I felt the pacing was nearly perfect with the film as it’s careful not to rush into things, but also garners our interest early on. It’s one that will likely stay with you after it ends and will create discussions with friends about what exactly happened. The acting is strong, it has frightening moments and the effects are top notch. All these factors turn this into a satisfying film.
Video: How’s it look?
I’m a big fan of Garland’s work both as an author and a director. He seems to have a very unique, artistic vision and it’s one that I can relate to. Visually Annihilation is, simply put, a beautiful film. Some of the practical and visual effects are hard to describe and there have been other, more visually-aggressive films out there. Paramount’s 2.39:1 HEVC 4K image is nothing short of perfection. The HDR gives a very lush look to some of the scenes, in particular the “shimmer”. Flesh tones seem a bit on the muted side, but there’s so much more going on that it really shouldn’t matter. Suffice it to say that it may take a couple viewings to take all of this in, but it’s worth it.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The included Dolby Atmos mix is nothing to balk at either. There are a few scenes in which there’s just a literal “humm”, but it manages to fill the room and convey a mood. Directional and atmospheric effects are prevalent, putting the viewer right in the middle of the action. LFE have a major role here as well, adding depth to several key scenes. Vocals, as expected, are pure and crisp. No complaints here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Three “segments” are included, all of which contain two smaller parts that help dissect the film, its themes and various aspects of the production.
- Part 1 – Southern Research
- Refractions – We get a sense of some of the challenges of bringing the novel to the screen with visual effects, staging and so forth.
- For Those That Follow – We get a good once over of the ensemble cast and their own “unique” aspects they bring to their characters.
- Part 2 – Area X
- Shimmer – The shooting schedule is examined (it was shot in sequence) as well as some of the elements of production.
- Vanished Into Havoc – A more in-depth look at the effects, both CGI and practical, are shown.
- Part 3 – To the Lighthouse
- Unfathomable Mind – The look and feel of “The Shimmer” is shown, both the exterior and some of the oddities inside.
- The Last Phase – Director Alex Garland is profiled, both as a director and author and what he brought to the film.
The Bottom Line
I had feared going into Annihilation that it would be a film critics adored, but I despised. Thankfully that wasn’t the case as the film kept me with it and has plenty to offer viewers. I like that the effects never overpower the story. I cared about the characters and the outcome. Recommended.