“Annihilation” is based on the novel of the same name by author Jeff Vandermeer. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
“Annihilation” was directed by Alex Garland, the director of the 2015 science fiction thriller “Ex Machina.” “Ex Machina” had an interesting science fiction premise with lackluster execution, and “Annihilation” follows this trend.
After her husband (Oscar Isaac) reappears after a mysterious year-long disappearance, biologist and former soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) volunteers for the exact same assignment that her husband had been on in order to figure out what happened to him, which forces her to enter an ever-expanding scientific anomaly that genetically alters living things.
As already stated, the science fiction premise is interesting. An anomaly that alters genetic structures appears and a small team has to go in to both investigate and find a way to stop it. Along the way, body horror elements set in. It could have been interesting and even fun, but it hits mediocrity instead.
The execution of this idea is incredibly flawed, based on everything from characters’ lapses in judgement to poor story telling. In terms of character judgement, the team’s leader (Jennifer Jason Leigh) allows Lena to join up with the team despite her having zero government clearance, and then the characters enter an anomaly that only one person has exited from without any protective clothing like masks or gloves. This ends up harming the world of the film. An example of the poor story telling would be the deus ex machina that just solves the plot at the end.
There is almost always some amount of coincidences that exist in a story to either make the plot happen or keep the story going, but “Annihilation” overuses it right off the bat. Lena’s husband is the one person to ever escape the anomaly, and she just so happens to also have the proper criteria to be allowed to accompany another team’s expedition into it.
Speaking of things happening right off the bat, all tension in the movie is dissipated within the first scene. Taking place right after the events of the movie, Lena and an unnamed government agent (Benedict Wong) talk about what happened in the anomaly, and the fates of all the members of the mission is revealed. Due to this, there is no expectation of which characters might live or die nor is there any reason to get invested in any of them if the audience is already aware of what is going to happen.
That is not too big of an issue, though, because it is not like the movie gives any reasons for the audience to be invested in anyone. With the exception of Lena, all of the characters are one dimensional and boring. The most character development any of them really get is a small verbal introduction early on in the movie, and those introductions all feel like the actors just read the descriptions of their characters that a casting director would have given them.
While the characters are nothing more than casting descriptions, the actors do what they can with the roles. While there is no character that they can work into their performances, they all know what emotions they should be feeling at any given time and no one gives a bad performance. Portman and Leigh are both good in their roles, and the two stand outs are Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez.
Alongside the performances, some of the genetic anomalies that the team encounter throughout the movie are interesting, both scientifically and visually, and the movie could have benefitted from more of these ideas. The best of these ideas by far is the one where plant genetics were infused with the gene that dictates human appearance, so there are human-shaped trees sprouting up all around.
While the strong performances, interesting science fiction concept and creative designs do help the movie to an extent, the rest of the lackluster execution just serves to sabotage the final product.
Final grade: C+