On February 23, 2018 Annihilation, a book to screen movie adaptation, was released. It was director Alex Garland’s second shot at film-making after his prodigal debut Ex Machina (2017). Following the trend, Annihilation is unapologetically science fiction.
Somewhat unsurprisingly the two movies share a leading man Oscar Isaac; however, the newest film includes Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, and Tessa Thompson on its short roster. All of the women are military scientists, embarking into a quarantined area housing “The Shimmer”. The term is honestly the best way to describe the phenomenon revealed in the CGI filled trailer.
The cast list is so small that almost every character appears in the trailer–a feat not often achieved in big budget films. However, the simple premise and intimate cast complement each other perfectly.
In addition to being science fiction, Annihilation has horror genre themes. Unsurprising since Garland was the writer of the terrifying zombie flick 28 Days Later (2002).
Annihilation – Behind the Scenes Drama
Horror, sci-fi, and mystery mixed with an incredible cast and reputable director sold Annihilation to a multitude of geeks in the months leading up to its release. However, the promising film’s potential remained undermined after poor reviews from a test screening in July 2016.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, producer David Ellison became worried that the film was “too intellectual” or “too complicated” for general audiences. Therefore, Paramount chose to only briefly release the film in cinemas in the United States, Canada, and China. Everywhere else, it premiered on Netflix.
Hardly any theaters held Annihilation and it had a dismal run at the box office because of it. Even many sci-fi geeks I know were unable to see the movie because it wasn’t available anywhere near them. This was very upsetting to me because to this day, Annihilation is one of my favorite movies of the year and of all time!
There are so many connections to Classic Sci-Fi Films that likely influenced Garland during production. These connections are part of what lead me to believe this film is a masterpiece.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
HAL, the well-meaning but deadly sentient computer is what most people retain from 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, there is no space computer in Annihilation.
Instead, there are similarities between the ominous black monolith in 2001 and phenomenon apparent in Annihilation. They are: The Shimmer and a lighthouse, the origin of The Shimmer. In both films, these mysterious manifestations are alien and the cause of the events that transpire. Some audiences are off-put by lack of explanations during movies, but that’s part of the entertainment experience.
Alien (1979) and The Thing (1982)
Many successful sci-fi movies have relied upon their nightmare-inducing monsters in a desolate landscape–whether it’s a xenomorph in space or a shapeshifting hunter in Antarctica.
Without giving away too much, Annihilation’s Shimmer is filled with many mutated animals, namely one bear whose screams still haunt me months later.
The Abyss (1989)
Unsurprisingly entertaining considering it was directed by James Cameron, The Abyss deals with the mystery of what resides in the largely unexplored ocean that covers 70% of the Earth. Instead of seeking out the answers, a crew of oil drillers and Navy Seals stumbles across non-terrestrial life.
However, one of the team leaders suffers from intense paranoia brought on by high-pressure nervous syndrome and exhibits destructive behavior.
Portman and her group remain filled with similar paranoia in Annihilation due to the understanding of why no one has returned from The Shimmer.
Who could forget the thought-provoking movie following Matthew McConaughey and Jodie Foster in their race to make first contact with extraterrestrials despite a few setbacks and the God debate?
After Foster has met with the alien, she remains faced by a skeptical jury as she attempts to explain the events of her space travel. She has no proof and a dismal understanding of the events that transpired.
Portman’s go to answer while facing a similar situation is, “I don’t know.” Onlookers of the spectacle are baffled and confused by her answers–or lack thereof. Garland may or may not have been influenced by Foster’s performance, but nevertheless, the connection is apparent.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Admittedly, the similarity between a film focused on alien doppelgangers and Annihilation is a little far-fetched. However, the events of the film irreparably change Portman and Isaacs’s characters to the point that it is unclear whether or not they are the same human beings by the end. Watch it and decide for yourself!
All of the films discussed above are visual effects masterpieces in the science fiction genre. Many of them even won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects the year they came out. Sadly, Annihilation probably will not follow that course of action; however, I am convinced that it will grow a following within the geek community eventually.
Almost no one knows the greatness that lies beneath the surface of this short-lived movie, so I call on sci-fi lovers to please get your hands on this move!