what i watched

annihilation (alex garland, 2018)

A few years ago, I wrote about Alex Garland's first film as director that "Ex Machina is a very good movie that suggests Garland will continue to offer intriguing films in the future." Four years later comes Annihilation, which is indeed an intriguing film, albeit one with a troubled history. It was made for Paramount, who got cold feet after a poor preview screening. Netflix ended up distributing the picture outside the U.S. and China (we saw it on Hulu, who as of this writing have the U.S. streaming rights). It bombed at the box office, but has already picked up a cult following.

Annihilation has a good cast, although I don't think they are all used to their best advantage. Jennifer Jason Leigh is always interesting, but here, she seriously underplays her part, which doesn't work as well as I'd like. Natalie Portman is the lead ... she and Leigh lead an expedition into "The Shimmer", an unexplained phenomena that looks gorgeous but is clearly also ominous. In the team are Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and new-to-me Swede Tuva Novotny. Although nothing is made explicit, the group resembles a typical multi-cultural band of soldiers: the silent leader, the (Jewish) biologist with a military background, the African-American, the Latinx, and the Swede. There's something pleasing about the way Annihilation replaces the usual brotherhood with women, and it is also good that Garland doesn't press the point, allowing us to notice on our own. But between the underplaying and the beautiful Shimmer and the general lack of deep characterization, Annihilation is too slow for its own good. When the gore comes, Garland delivers, and certainly there are those who prefer this kind of intellectual sci-fi thriller to something more crass. But I could have used a little crass.

Oscar Isaac and Benedict Wong also turn up. That Shimmer really is something. It's a movie worth seeing. But it's not up to Ex Machina. #908 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.


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