Lena is a professor who has been trying to come to terms with her husband Kane’s disappearance a year back. He went on a mission for the Army and seemed to disappear completely. As she tries to move on, one evening he just walks into the room. Kane is tight lipped, even absent minded. Suddenly, he starts to vomit blood. On the way to the hospital, the ambulance is accosted by government agents.
Lena learns where her husband has been, a strange part of an American swamp that is encircled by a strange barrier. To try and get answers as to what is wrong with Kane, Lena volunteers to join four other scientists into what they call “The Shimmer”. They realize it may be one way, as other than Kane, no other group has returned.
What they find within the shimmer is evolution on overdrive. Biological life is being melded into new lifeforms. The four scientists begin to question their sanity and even their physical forms.
Annihilation is a patient and quiet film. It plays out and reveals itself in a deliberately calm fashion. This is not a sci-fi spectacle. Instead it is a world of frightening beauty. The film is full of haunted, eerie visuals. At one point, they discover shrubbery that has grown to look like people. It is both creep and remarkably beautiful.
Much of the film rests on Natalie Portman’s shoulders, and luckily, she is in sync with the film’s tone. She has a quiet intensity throughout the film. Jennifer Jason Leigh offers us an uncertain leader. Dr. Ventriss appears to have ulterior motives, but the audience gets no more real access than Lena.
Tessa Thompson plays scientist Josie in a role so uncommon for Thompson so far, that it took me awhile to realize it was Tessa Thompson. Josie is quiet and mousey, but has a tremendous intellect. This allows her to start to understand the Shimmer in a way the other women cannot. Gina Rodriguez is the well meaning conflict for the women within the film. Oscar Isaac’s role is small, but his performance as Kane is unnerving.
The film is visually stunning, every frame of the Shimmer full of horrific beauty. Alex Garland (director of Ex Machina) is proving himself a force to be reckoned with in thoughtful science fiction film.