Judging by the first few minutes of Annihilation, I thought the sci-fi film seemed very derivative of 2016’s amazing Arrival. Both movies had the same muted color scheme and dreamlike direction. Both movies featured a grieving female professor as its lead character. In Annihilation, Natalie Portman stars as biology professor Lena, whose soldier husband Kane mysteriously arrives back home after being gone for a year from a mission and assumed KIA.
This comparison only holds true at the beginning of the film, however. After a few introductions, Lena journeys to Area X to understand her husband’s last mission, which is connected to the strange Shimmer that’s spreading across the bay. It is at this point that the movie shifts gears and becomes more like 2005’s horror hit The Descent. Lena joins an all-female group led by Dr. Ventress on an expedition to the lighthouse where the Shimmer is believed to have originated from.
I blame Arrival for my newfound interest in intellectual sci-fi films. Though Annihilation is nowhere near the caliber of Arrival (the movie is a 5/5 in my book), Annihilation is great enough to be recommended. Maybe I just had very high expectations, but it didn’t have the same it-sticks-to-your-brain-after-the-credits-roll quality that Arrival had.
Natalie Portman is captivating as always. (You should go check out Black Swan.) She carries the emotional heft of the movie, and she does an awesome job showing the Lena’s internal confusion as she faced compromising situations. The all-female group she was part of is also immensely rootable, though I would have appreciated more backstory about each of the members. Oscar Isaac’s turn as Kane is also quite disturbing,
Though the movie is considered sci-fi, it is unexpectedly surreal. The visuals in the first part of the film were dreary and moody, but once they entered the Shimmer, a psychedelic world of technicolor awaited Lena and her group. There are some fantastically horrific visuals and creatures inside the Shimmer. In particular, there is one creature that could probably cause nightmares to some. The last 20 minutes of the movie was a one-two punch of unexpected events, and it was captivating to see how everything played out.
Again, the film is no Arrival. But I’d take an intellectual sci-fi film over some shallow comedy any day.