Annihilation: Could Have Used a Bit More Reality
This movie feels incomplete. There were parts I really enjoyed, but most of the movie didn’t really seem to go anywhere or have anything to do with the plot. The 2018 film, directed by Alex Garland fresh off his success from Ex Machina, prides itself on being lucid and vague but is that a good thing? It definitely can contend with other Sci-Fi classics right now, but ultimately I don’t feel like this one will be remembered for anything more than a mystery box with a trippy ending.
There are two concrete staples in the Sci-Fi movie genre. Introducing a currently scientific impossibility into the world and seeing how the people in reality will act. And scientists being really dumb. Annihilation has both. Aside from the main character Lena, played by Natalie Portman, no one else needs to be in this movie. I do not feel like any character adds anything other than exposition in the form of dialogue. In fact the entire first half hour of the movie is just exposition. Character after character is introduced in this film and every single one of their lines are “this is who I am, this is my motivations and job, here is a unique factoid about me, and here is another paragraph explaining the plot instead of showing it.” The movie starts with Lena reporting that she is the lone survivor on an expedition that took place throughout the movie. So we already know all the other characters will die. I just wish the movie didn’t try so hard to make me care about their deaths with loads of info dumps about the characters. There is literally a scene where one of the women lists off every other character’s reason they joined the mission, or as I heard it, every reason you should feel bad for the team members. And as we already know, one by one they all die. Mostly because of their own dumb choices.
I understand there has to always be some suspension of disbelief while watching a movie. It’s easy to be an outside observer and say “well why didn’t they just do this instead of that” but so much of this movie didn’t make sense. I’m not referring to the weird alien stuff either, we’ll get to that later. I am talking about instances where we are told the alien gas cloud shimmer has been growing in the United States for three years, but no one in the world knows about it. In which time dozens, if not hundreds, of people have gone into the shimmer. Once in, all communication is cut and no one has returned; but we are still sending people into the shimmer without hazmat suits or even gas masks. Actually one person does return, and the condition of that person, if anything confirms how potentially dangerous the shimmer is. With information like that I would assume the United States government wouldn’t be sending people into the alien gas cloud with no more than a few walkie-talkies and a compass. As I mentioned, the scientists are not making very logical sense either. There are multiple instances of people walking off on their own, not using lights at night, not firing weapons when they should have, or just in general not really caring about what they were doing. At one point the team sees a video that shows what happened to a previous group. Five minutes later they find what is immediately recognizable as one of the people in that video. Multiple characters say “what is that?” or “what do you think happened?” and do not connect dots that an audience member, and normal non scientist human, could have. The plot attempts to explain some of these issues saying the cloud is effecting their mind. Maybe they should have, oh I don’t know, went in with gas masks then! The rest the plot doesn’t seem to make any sense either.
Simply put the movie is about two things. Natalie Portman trying to discover what happened to her husband, Oscar Isaac, on this mission as well as realizing why he would have gone on the mission in the first place, and a team trying to discover what is causing the gas shimmer. We at least discover one of those answers. The alien shimmer was…… It’s the husband, sorry…. But no, the interesting alien shimmer stuff that the trailers pumped up to being the plot of the movie isn’t as important as her marriage. Through out the movie there are flashbacks of her with her husband and other scenes that answer the questions proposed in the beginning of the film. And to be honest, I liked that story. I just do not think it should have been told in hard cuts chopped up and shown throughout the middle of a Sci-Fi alien plot. I can assume there might have been some metaphors. There is a line about “humans are self-destructive” combined with a cloud that is destroying all life, but the metaphor was lost on me. Maybe that is my fault as the audience and another viewing could help me out, but I wasn’t interested enough to desire watching it again. The actual plot I was in it for, the team finding and fighting some alien mutant thing, kind of didn’t make too much sense either. The team wanted to get to the center of the cloud, but there wasn’t an extraction team. None of the characters indicated what the point of getting to the center would be. And so many terrible things happen to the team that they probably should have gotten the hell out of there; which someone brings up but they illogically explain why that’s not a good decision.
This movie is by no means unwatchable. In fact it is very watchable, I just watched it! It is beautiful and a real treat to the eyeballs. Really as much as I had problems with the dialogue and plot, the visuals are stunning. If you are a fan of unique and creative art design, you might really love this movie. There are so many scenes that are out of the box weird. Usually followed by a scientist either saying something stupid or saying some science words, that I don’t think actually make sense, in order to explain what is happening. The visual aspect is not the only part I’m talking about either. What this movie does really well is come up with concepts that are truly unique. And as stated in the movie, the closer the team got to the center, the weirder and less realistic the setting gets. I really do not want to spoil anything because there are so few of these moments and they are the best parts of the film. I will say though that there is a scene with a bear that is hands down phenomenal. If the entire movie was more like that, this would be a very different review. And the ending is so weird and crazy that I don’t even think I fully understood it. I’m sure there are a million “Annihilation ending explained” videos out there but I recommend you don’t watch them. I got an explanation in my mind that I’m happy with and maybe each person watching will think of something else. Part of me believes that is how the director wants it. I just wish he should have spent more time creating scenes like those and less on ones full of exposition, like the rest of the movie.
Aliens are rarely something everyone in a room can agree on. Personally I think if we found life from another planet, it wouldn’t look like humans, or any animal we’ve ever seen. They wouldn’t breath oxygen, or breath anything. The concept of what a breathe is would be so foreign they couldn’t even imagine it. This film does a great job of giving us an alien movie that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. A good Sci-Fi movie is one part ‘scientifically impossible thing’ and one part ‘put into reality’. If this movie would have spent more time focusing on making the characters and plot more logical and realistic, it might have escaped The Snappening.
Movie watched and review written by: Troy Smith