Bubbles and Crocodiles and Bears, oh my: ‘Annihilation’ review

This one’s weird, y’all.

One of the ads for Annihilation reads: “What is it? What does it want?” I’m not so sure that people who have seen the movie are going to be any more equipped to answer those questions than those who haven’t.

Annihilation is a new sci-fi film from Alex Garland — a filmmaker best known for directing 2015’s Ex Machina (fun fact: he also helped write 2012’s Dredd, 2007’s Sunshine and 2002’s 28 Days Later…, meaning he’s had a pretty good career up to this point).

Annihilation sees Garland return to a new, ultra-weird universe that’s full of strange creatures and technology and once again has us questioning what, exactly, it means to be human. Only this time, instead of androids and Oscar Isaac dancing (“I’m gonna tear up the f*cking dance floor dude, check it out”) we get things like giant crocodiles, screaming bears and plant people.

Lena (Natalie Portman) and Kane (Isaac) both served in the military. That’s where they met, actually, and it didn’t take them long to grow closer and fall in love. Together they have a happy life — Kane continued his career in the military while Lena, after seven years of service, decided to drop out and go into biology instead.

Until, one day, that happy life together comes to an end. Kane is being sent out on a new assignment — one he can’t talk about in any way (all his missions are classified, after all), but one that Lena can tell is different. He’s never been this quiet before departure before.

credit: YouTube

He was only supposed to be gone for a couple of weeks. One year later and there’s been no word for him. No one knows what happened to Kane or his squad. They’ve just disappeared.

Or has he? Out of nowhere, Lena gets a sign that Kane might not actually be dead (not going to spoil what it is exactly is, but it’s a pretty obvious sign). With new motivation, Lena is now determined to figure out what happened to him and what, exactly, is being hidden from her.

Problem is, that’s not so easy to explain even when the government — this unit is run by a psychologist named Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) — is willing to cooperate.

A meteor crashed to earth two years ago, creating this weird life-like bubble. A bubble, which they call the shimmer, that has been expanding at an exponential rate. No one knows what happens inside the shimmer — all forms of communication are down and everyone that gets sent in doesn’t come back — but they do know it’s growing at an exponential rate. While it crashed in a bunch of swamp-land, it will soon reach civilization — meaning it needs to be stopped before then.

credit: YouTube

You guessed it: Kane was sent in the shimmer. And now, thinking that there’s a chance Kane could still be alive, Lena wants to go inside too. She bands together with a team of female scientist — Ventress, Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Cast (Tuva Novotny) and Josie (Tessa Thompson, aka my new celebrity crush) — on this suicide mission, as they enter the shimmer.

And what do they find inside? Honestly, who knows.

Here’s the thing: I really enjoyed the first two acts of Annihilation, to an insane degree. All the set-up was enthralling and intense, and the mystery they set up around what happened to Kane was an intriguing one. The characters were all set-up well — Oscar Isaac and Natalie Portman have great chemistry together — so I cared about everything that was happening.

Those feelings only escalated once they got inside the shimmer. The world that Garland has created here is simply gorgeous, as it features some incredible cinematography while still having a budget much smaller than something like Star Wars or Valerian. It just goes to show how far world-building and setting can go when creating science-fiction.

credit: YouTube

There’s also some really great horror segments in Annihilation. Without spoiling anything, there are creatures that live in here — giant, deadly creatures that are trying to kill our heroes. Garland knows how to direct intense sequences like this, allowing Annihilation to lend itself to some really fun creature horror — the scene with the humanoid bear was honestly great.

Not everything in these first two-thirds is completely smooth. The movie moves at a slower pace, which can be frustrating at some points, and we don’t ever get to know some of the supporting characters, as well as one, might like. All of the supporting characters give great performances, especially Leigh and Thompson, but they’re backstories are reduced to one single scene of exposition dump and we never learn anything more about them from there.

However, at this point Annihilation is still working. It’s fun, entertaining and actually rooted in real science, as Garland takes the opportunity to include some messages about microbiology and consciousness.

credit: YouTube

Then the last twenty-five minutes of Annihilation hits, and shit completely hits the fan. There’s going to be a large majority of people who flat-out hate the ending — something I completely understand. The movie, out of nowhere, goes from being this fun, Alien-like film into a Kubrick-esque quest to find the meaning of life. Anyone who says that they understood everything that happened in this final act has either seen the movie 100 times and had proper time to analyze everything or is just flat-out lying.

And look, I don’t need everything in movies spoon-fed to me. I like ambiguity and metaphors, which is why I enjoyed movies like Mother! and First Reformed. The reason the ending for Annihilation doesn’t work isn’t because I didn’t understand it, it’s because it becomes a completely different movie in these final moments.

It’s ambitious and it’s bold, I’ll give Garland that. But he can’t pull it off in the end, creating a mess of an ending that leaves us wanting more. More explanation, more resolution, more of anything really. Just more than what we got.

credit: YouTube

It’s sad because the ending to Annihilation is going to completely overshadow the rest of the film. When people mention this movie, they’re going to think about how weird the bit at the lighthouse was, while completely forgetting everything that leads up to it. Maybe there’s a logical explanation for everything that happened in Act 3 that I’m simply not smart enough to understand, who knows. I’m sure people will be writing essays about this one, trying to explain it. Yet, even if someone does walk me through what it means shot-for-shot, it’s not going to change how I feel about the movie as a whole — it started off as one thing, and ended by becoming something entirely different.

That’s just me though, maybe you loved this movie. Watch the trailer here, and let us know what you thought of Annihilation in the comments below.

Bubbles and Crocodiles and Bears, oh my: 'Annihilation' review
  • Bubbles and Crocodiles and Bears, oh my: 'Annihilation' review
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Brandon Schreur

The fella over there with the hella good hair. Movies and TV are my jam, and the fact that I get to write about them on a regular basis is the bees knees.