Directed by Alex Garland, he makes up for his terrible characterisation of women in Ex Machina (2014) with this epic female-led sci-fi. One of the first of many films, I suspect, sold directly to Netflix to avoid the cost of distribution outside the US, Annihilation is worth a look.
Reminiscent of the structure of Arrival (2016), we flit backward and forward in time as we see Lena (Natalie Portman) being interrogated by faceless men in an unnamed facility. Through flashback, we see she is a neurologist, brittle as a bird after the disappearance of Kane (Oscar Isaacs), her military husband, on active duty. Unknown to her, something has crash landed near a lighthouse in remote, rural America and a hazy iridescent zone begins to slowly spread out from it. Anyone who enters it doesn’t return, except for Kane.
When Kane reappears suddenly in their home after an absence of more than a year, he seems dazed and unlike himself. Taken to the facility on the edge of the zone, Lena decides to join a group of scientists on an exploratory mission, who want to achieve with science what the military men have failed to do with force. Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Lee) is the embittered leader and with Josie (Tessa Thompson), Anya (Gina Rodriguez) and Cass (Tuva Novotny), they all represent different disciplines and also aspects of social femininity.
Annihilation does a good job at building suspense and we are genuinely in the dark about what is inside the zone. It is revealed in small glimpses until we fully realise the potential for horror within its alluring glamour. The narrative moves slowly but in a way I enjoy. Silence and sound are used well and the story slowly unfurls, contrasted always with the opening interrogation scene so that we know the outcome without knowing the trajectory.
Ultimately the story is a metaphor that only becomes heavy handed toward the end. There is the contrast of the masculine as brute strength with the feminine as intellectual curiosity, the destruction caused by tampering with nature and the inability to stop destruction once it has started, particularly when the horror wears a beautiful mask. We can see ourselves reflected in these themes and they keep us engaged once the otherworldly suspense begins to dissipate.
The ending of a sci-fi/horror/thriller/suspense can make or break it and this one is nicely done. It is ambiguous but enough to leave you wondering.
Have you seen this film? Did you have to resort to google to understand the final scene? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.