Some Science Fiction films are an enigma with stories that can mislead viewers into thinking they’re in for a thrill ride. But similar to 1951’s “The Thing from Another World” they convey a theme rather than just deliver the suspense and action. It’s a more thoughtful approach that’s been done in some of today’s Sci-Fi. Understandably, these types can makes film producers uneasy. Annihilation was meant for the theaters but much of its release was on Netflix. Not many would drive to the theaters for abstract thinking. However Annihilation is written and directed by Alex Garland who wrote 28 Days Later and Sunshine so it is not without a wild imagination. Annihilation begins with an object hurtling towards earth where it falls on a lighthouse somewhere in the southern coast of the U.S. The crash is unusual because it doesn’t devastate the structure and instead emits a powerful light. Then the event cuts to Lena, a cellular-biology professor being questioned about an incident. She tells her story through a flashback, about how she was dealing with the loss of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) when on a lonely day at home, he walked in. He seemed different. Then they were transported by secret agents to an unknown facility where Lena found out that Kane has been part of a secret expedition to the Shimmer, a transparent material enclosing nearby forests. She and a small group are then asked to enter a zone.
In the role of Lena is Natalie Portman who seems a bit physically fragile for an expeditionary. But she conveys independence and courage. For the teammates there is the assertive Anya (Gina Rodriguez), an affable Josie (Tessa Thompson), Cassie (Tuva Novotny), and the bleak Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They have some issues in their past that are gradually uncovered. Together they observe lifeforms that are morphing genetically. In the Shimmer they find diverse species of plants that shouldn’t be there and a few wild animals evolving traits that don’t belong to it. A mixture of special effects and live action are employed to create this mystical place. But the plot is minimal in terms of action. It’s got a slow pace and is unpredictable. Sometimes it uses shock horror like when they discover a harrowing video showing the Shimmers effect on a soldier. Or moments of sudden violence such as when a Bear attacks them. But the narrative relies on questions that it keeps raising. What is causing these biological alterations? Is it a malignant? The bewildering finale, a completely strange sequence, leads to the source of the Shimmer and after the confrontation lies no perceptible conclusion. Annihilation is an effective film that creeps and remains vague, and gives its answers in fragments. Although it is not meant for everyone, it is very well made.