28 February 2018| No Comments on Annihilation     by Sean Chavel



So frightening it pains to turn your eyes away. Annihilation is hard science fiction that is a crossbreed of horror, too, and it has enough ideas to fill a dozen movies. It does not hurl constant action movie type of Roland Emmerich moments at you because it’s strategy is to build anticipation and dread a la Kubrick and Cronenberg. When it finally arrives at what kind of powers the aliens have the film has put you in the throes of terror and terrible feelings. By Alex Garland, director of “Ex Machina” which was my choice for the best film of 2015, this follow-up by him based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer breaks the mold from typical mainstream conventions.

The acting is not only first-rate, it’s a cut above the standard for genre pictures. Natalie Portman in recent years is proving she can remarkably play brainy and highly emotional, and here again plays a character with fierce convictions. Portman’s character is a biologist named Lena whose soldier husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) has for long been presumed killed in action. He suddenly shows up at home a year later, comes off emotionlessly detached, coughs up blood and gets an immediate ride by ambulance to the ER – which is cut off by a military coup that whisks Lena and Kane away to a shielded-off high-tech facility to discuss what he was involved in. Outside the facility, they are surrounded by “The Shimmer,” a force-field with an unknowable and possibly malevolent purpose that keeps expanding, the way the universe supposedly keeps expanding.

Lena volunteers to go into The Shimmer with an all-female group led by a psychiatrist named Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who vows to accomplish more than any of the male platoons have accomplished previous. The team could be inside this habitat for what feels like days, but it is actually weeks. If there is a streak of paranoia within one, that personal detriment is swiftly amplified. If there is a future of dementia with a particular character, the dementia becomes augmented earlier. A crocodile attack occurs but its DNA seemed to have been melded with the oval-shape mouth of a shark. Other animals look like crossbreeds. There are spores are on old buildings. Icicles on the beach. Everybody starts to feel sick on the inside, like moving flesh is going through cycling motions under the skin.

The team reaches a point where they can retreat or go further to the lighthouse – which is the central target site of where a meteor hit that started this horror – and since they don’t think any male teams ever made it that far, the women want to prove they can make that difference.

“Annihilation” has challenging ideas on memory, hysteria and delirium that can debase smart professionals, dislocation in a foreign environment, loss of time, self-destructive impulses, the knowing that you’re going to perish and if that be the case then to at least solve a great human mystery before expiring – even if that means plunging into a terrifying abyss.

I believe “Annihilation” is one of the greatest science fiction movies I’ve ever seen. It was also the most scared I’ve been in years. It’s one thing to expect aliens to attack people in movies which we’ve seen a thousand times, and it’s another thing to have a development where the aliens want to do more than inflict damage, they want to adopt a mimicry of all Earth life forms. Garland’s visual schemes are a radical contrast in the way that the Shimmer ahead in the skylines really does shimmer in waves of dispersive colors, and yet the women inside the environment are pale and muted, like a force is sucking the color out from them.

It’s such an easy earned 5-stars from me, but with so much radical imagination going on I wonder why many other reviewers that I’ve come across are sticking it with three and a half stars? Are we all shocked it’s only February and so perfect scores are being saved for middlebrow films coming next November and December? For me, Garland is emerging as the most fascinating directors of our time, and two out of two times is pushing brand new buttons inside me.

120 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Stalker” (1979, Russia); “Sunshine” (2007); “Under the Skin” (2014); “Ex Machina” (2015).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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