Published: Mon, February 26, 2018
Health Care | By Belinda Paul

Cast of 'Annihilation' describe sci-fi environmental phenomenon

Cast of 'Annihilation' describe sci-fi environmental phenomenon

After Garland's triumph (more critical than commercial) with "Ex Machina" he was given a much larger budget ($55 million) for "Annihilation" - still low by modern standards - yet managed to come up with a film that looks like it cost three times as much. Odd is an understatement.

The film has a non-linear narrative; really, this is my only complaint, since it opens virtually where our story is nearing its end.

You've never seen a Marvel or "Star Wars" movie or did and were not all that impressed. It's an altogether uneasy mix that succeeds in being highly disturbing.

Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a biologist, professor and former soldier. He has no recollection of where he's been or who he is. The government has been covering up a phenomenon called the Shimmer. This creates a colorful force field that grows its own unique habitat, which scientists have dubbed "The Shimmer". That meant he'd often have to jump out of his X-Wing as Poe Dameron, take off his blaster, and run across Pinewood Studios, tussle his hair, change into some camo trousers and be Kane, the only guy who's ever come back from the mysterious Area X. The two projects couldn't have been more different but that sense of dislocation actually helped the Guatemalan-Cuban-American actor get in character as he re-teamed with his Ex-Machina director.

There are scenes sprinkled throughout Annihilation that will truly haunt you, as when Lena and the gang encounter a bear-like creature that sounds uncannily human. The film is a slow crawl creep show.

Garland's adapted screenplay admirably offers bonding moments between these characters, particularly a conversation between Portman and Novotny as they paddle a kayak down the river. Everyone on the team has a different reason for embarking on such a unsafe mission. As with any horror-tinged flick, the cover of darkness is a key component of the scares, but there are a couple of scenes (one of them key) where the it's just plain hard to tell what's going on.

Part philosophical sci-fi, part psychedelic-existential fever dream, Annihilation pulses with the looming unease of the unknown. "Sharpen up. Annihilation leaves a mark". The longer I talked about it, the more I realized how much I liked the film, but also how completely Garland seemed to have shrugged off the novel he was adapting. She must confront the memory of her husband again and again as she traces his journey through steps that have fragmented, rooted and rotted. We are made up of cells, the story reminds us, and at what point do those cells amount to an "I"?

Soon enough, large mutant creatures of assorted persuasions start emerging from the forest, which itself takes on ever-more weird and overgrown looks as the women proceed deeper into the Shimmer.

Sorry to say these are all of the plot details that can be revealed here - not necessarily due to possible spoilers - but because little of what could be laid out would not make a lick of sense. How where these women chosen?

As Lena observes during her time in "Area X" (and later on, recounting her story to the Southern Reach team), the objective of the Shimmer is not to destroy, but to create something new. If they're going somewhere presumably risky, why aren't they in biohazard suits, or in an armored vehicle?

VanderMeer's book is obtuse, meditative, mysterious and transfixing.

Reuters/FileActress Natalie Portman poses for photographers at the 67th Venice Film Festival in 2010. Annihilation arrives with an outré third act - near silent, and hypnotizing in its embrace of the abstract - but also a host of other delightfully unfamiliar elements. Portman is fantastic as the grieving, then confused wife. Outside the lighthouse, Lena spots the dead members of her husband Kane's, team, where they presumably turned on one another out of madness. Why doesn't he remember anything? The characters enter the Shimmer knowing zilch. The reviews are in, however, and they promise a movie that is trippy, scary and above all, well worth watching. If she can't beat her enemy with science, she can always use a machine gun. The women have assault rifles as their primary weapon, but it seems Lena is the only one who knows how to shoot one.

When we meet Lana (Natalie Portman), she is being observed and interrogated about her experience inside The Shimmer. This is another unexplained issue. Can it be about nothing, or does it need to be about so much that you need to be on a controlled substance in order to think you're accessing all its layers of meaning? (The final shot of the film is a kind of kissing cousin to Charlie Kaufmann's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.) But rare is the studio picture allowed to be this abstruse, and engaged viewers will leave with plenty to consider while they decompress over a hypnotic closing credit sequence.

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