I got to see the film ‘Annihilation‘ last night. While I loved the movie, I find myself having a hard time telling you succinctly why I loved the movie. What I find most interesting about that is that my inability to describe the movie with great clarity and relative ease perfectly mirrors the protagonist’s (Lena, played with a voracious intensity by Natalie Portman) inability to describe what she encountered during her journey into what the characters call “The Shimmer”. Let me begin there: Portman plays a former soldier and current John Hopkins biologist named Lena who, at the start of the film, is in an isolation chamber describing what she just witnessed to several scientists who have been studying and probing “The Shimmer” – an ever-expanding area of energy radiating out from a lighthouse that was struck by a small meteor a few years back. Attempts to send in probes, animals, even teams of researchers have proven futile as nothing ever comes back out after going inside of its field. Lena’s husband Kane, a soldier in the army (a haunting performance by Oscar Isaac), is the only person to ever come out of “The Shimmer” and he doesn’t appear to have come back quite the same. Soon, Lena finds herself at a secret research base on the edge of the phenomenon and, in an effort to save her husband, volunteers to go along with a group of researchers who plan to make their way to the lighthouse and discover the source of whatever is happening in an attempt to understand and stop it.
The cast and their performances are nothing short of brilliant. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny are all riveting to watch as the group of explorers each with a different field of expertise and each driven by their own distinct purposes for being there. The pace of the movie never falters and there is constant sense of unease that I got while viewing it that I don’t recall feeling from any other movie since last year’s ‘Split’. As the team pushes ahead, they encounter images and sights that range from surreal, to spectacular to downright horrifying until the film’s climactic end which truly defies description. Director Alex Garland, who gave us 2014’s ‘Ex Machina‘, once again delivers an incredible spectacle of cinema that is as thought-provoking as it is breathtaking. I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person but even I was perplexed by what exactly the ending signified and that made me like the film even more. There are a few “Gotcha!” type scares but there are also plenty of horrific images that will stick with you long after you’ve left the theater. For a movie to be so brilliant and gorgeous and frightening all at the same time is quite the achievement. ‘Annihilation’ is the first movie of 2018 that I am already planning to see again at the first available opportunity and that kind of immediate rewatchability on a film forces me to score it as a solid 9.5. Get out there and see it in a theater near you THIS WEEKEND!!