When it comes to science-fiction very few films can ever surpassed the sheer stupidity that was Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) which I consider the dumbest science fiction film I’ve ever seen. I prefer sci-fi films that try to explore complex ideas about human nature over space epic. With this in mind I also understand science-fiction, like all genres, can be molded into what the storyteller so desire. So not every sci-fi is going to be smart, even though smart writing is what I typically look for in sci-fi. Annihilation ditches the advance technology in favor of being a hard sci-fi film with elements of psychological horror, and mystery thrown in. Resulting in a movie that has something to say, but doesn’t know to say it, nor combine all of its different elements into a single working piece.
Annihilation follows Lena (Natalie Portman), and her team exploring a mysterious zone called the Shimmer that is ever expanding in order to seek answers. As far as science fiction movies goes there’s little in the way of advance technology to be found here. The movie certainly could have used some of that advance technology because you’ll have very little in that regard in the film’s writing. For starter, let’s start off with the fact the film is incapable of creating psychological horror with shallow characters. With the exception of Lena, everyone else who explores the Shimmer are clunkily developed in one exchange of dialogue. Having little to go on for these characters prevents there from being any tension building up. Lena who is fleshed out must face the more self destructive side of her personality in the few attempts the Shimmer makes to create things, and remind her of things she regrets in her past. Why the Shimmer does is not answered beyond it can refract DNA, and maybe read people’s subconscious, or mind. That last part is never confirmed. Instead of being mysterious you’ll be confused by why the story takes the direction it does.
Lena character is the only one in the movie that gets fleshed out properly, and it still finds a way to ruin that. She has a destructive behavior ruining her perfect looking marriage, and exploring Lena’s guilty conscious is the only thing the movie has to make anything compelling out of. Sadly, it’s all written, and expressed in a emotionless way devaluing any emotionally resonate this storyline could of had. The writing wants you to sympathize with her as a tragic character, and sadly it doesn’t work when everything is portrayed in a cold, disinterested manner. Detaching the emotion from the idea so to speak.
I’m willing to suspend my disbelief in movies, but the internal logic has to function properly either by the genre it’s most bound by, or the logic within the world it takes place in. Already having establish the world mostly resemble ours lets go over the major oversights. Starting with the obvious if its establish every team who explore the Shimmer has died with the only person to have return coughing up blood, and now quarantine. You would think with this ever expanding mysterious field taking the lives of several trained military personnel that the government would make sure nothing from the Shimmer makes its way into any public area! On top of that, the military evacuated the public from this area under the pretense of a chemical spill. Within three years no one in Maryland (where Blackwater National Park is located) suspected there was something fishy going on. Everyone just believes it’s a chemical spill.
The biggest oversight is something that shouldn’t have been overlooked in the first place. So when the only survivor from the Shimmer is placed in a quarantined area, and people wearing hazmat suit implies that survivor is contagious. Except when Lena (and possibly dozens of other) team goes to explore inside the Shimmer without any sort of protection. More questionable is the survivor made it into a public area so who knows how many people the survivor possibly infected. Maybe none since the movie is very selective on how science works. It’s almost as baffling as not having military trained personals besides Lena joining her team of scientists. With the stated gravity of this Shimmer expanding, and possibly destroying life the government sure are some serious cheapskates, or this military just have people who are complacent about all life possibly being killed by this ever expanding mysterious field!
Once the team actually gets inside the Shimmer it’s even slower moving than it was before. The opening sequence does the Shimmer investigation a disservice by revealing who survives, and briefly establishing the fate of the other team members. With that in mind you’ll just be waiting for them to slowly get killed off. There’s a scene at a military base at night time, and all the characters are taking turns guarding the team sleeping in the lookout tower. They decide to have someone on guard hundreds of feet away from the lookout tower they are sleeping in. With a stairway leading up to the sleeping team members being unprotected they intentionally placed themselves in even more danger for no reason. They have night vision goggles, and a lookout tower that’ll give them a broader view of the area if they guard the stairway. I would worry about them, but when they can’t see a giant mutated bear point blank in front them is about the point I gave up on them! Granted this happens at night time; however, the person who gets attacked is right next to the other members of the team when she gets attacked by a giant mutated bear. Oh yeah, can’t forget to mention everyone on Lena’s team we follow are some sort of scientists. I can’t buy into that when they’re hardly seen taking notes insider the shimmer.
Without spoiling any specifics the climax resolution is sure to make your IQ drop to double digits. This is because of how easily the Shimmer itself, and everything it created gets destroyed in the film. Making it laughable that the first teams who explored the Shimmer when it was just in inside the lighthouse didn’t bother using any sort of flammable weapons to destroy it. Then comes the ending which takes it sweet time getting too. The climax which takes place in the lighthouse where the Shimmer originated goes on for too long. All that happens is Lena gets some vague answers leading to a name drop, a grenade like weapon pin gets pulled, and conflict resolved. This all takes longer than it should play out. Padding the sequence by having Lena slowly move around the lighthouse. Once the final shot of the movie cut to black I stopped caring about the fate of humanity in this film. If it was that easy for them to eliminate the threat, and the fact these stupid characters are the ones that did it is quite the feat it pulled off in dumb writing.
Annihilation is written, and directed by Alex Garland. I already bashed his poor writing skills on the story front, but as a director he doesn’t know how to give his actors good direction. The only one who manages to pull of anything well is Natalie Portman. She takes a broken character, and subtly displays constant self doubt in her. When she sounds detach speaking about herself, or her husband it come off naturally for the character to be speaking that way. Her co-stars on the other hand have a leash around them preventing them from showing too much emotions. Jennifer Jason Leigh suffers the most from this looking bored in several scenes. Garland, for some reason, wrote her a character who doesn’t display much emotion in the first place. So when Jennifer Leight is suppose to start losing it she acts no differently from when she was sane. The muted colors don’t help either, but having everything be so detached from emotion when you’re attempting to be psychological is counter intuitive.
So without expressive actors the only other way Alex Garland tries to keep his audiences awake are through the brief moments of blood, and gore. One scene involving Oscar Isaac cutting through a soldier stomach with a knife has some convincing practical effects. It then gets ruined by fake looking CGI intestines. In general, the special effects are pretty good, especially the gore. There’s also another scene where a mutated bear attacks our tied up team in a house. The audio is so badly distorted that Garland to advise his actor to spell it out for the audience one of the team members mutated. Not only that, but this sequence involving the mutated team member in a house is pretty lame. When all it takes is a single clip from automatic gun to the head to kill a mutated bear how is there supposed to be tension. If the Shimmer distorts DNA, and this is the worse in terms of dangerous distorted lifeforms the team is going to be alright.
Annihilation is a hallow film detached from anything resembling human empathy. Attempting to have a broad psychological scope gets derails quickly through stupid writing, dumb characters, and a disinterested visionary. When you write a scene involving a team of scientists traveling by boat through a swamp after being attacked by a mutated alligator, you need to go back to the drawing board, and spend time tweaking around with simple logic before tackling anything complex. Alex Garland had good ideas, and a good cast to pull off something good, but it’s all goes to waste in this misfire effort.