Annhilation arrives on Netflix apparently having been deemed too cerebral for a global cinema release following less than spectacular business in the US. Something’s gone wrong somewhere. A film so feminist it hardly feels the need to mention it has five tough, scientific women as lead characters, yet one that is also dramatic, intelligent, beautiful and affecting … and nobody can work out how to sell tickets for it. I guess we get the multiplexes we deserve.
Natalie Portman is Lena, now a biologist and once a soldier. Her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), returns from a year away with the military but something’s gone wrong somewhere. Following that trail puts Lena in a team heading inside ‘the shimmer’, a space in southern Florida that appears to harbour some malevolence as all who enter do not return (Kane, apparently, excepted). Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) leads the party and three other women follow with varying degrees of trepidation.
Inside the shimmer the environment is both recognisable and otherworldly. Nothing has really changed at first glance, but on closer inspection …
Alex Garland follows up Ex Machina with a piece here that is spellbinding. Adapting Jeff VanderMeer’s novel (I haven’t read it but may now be tempted) the script, world creation and direction are nothing short of remarkable. In a good way. The almost wordless finale, more a piece of contemporary movement by this point, should be used as the dictionary definition of ‘show don’t tell’ from now on. The drip drip of revelation, combined with some genuinely shocking scenes, creates a tension and unease that the film never remotely feels like releasing.
I don’t see anything like as much cinema as I’d like to these days but have been lucky enough to catch Midnight Special, Arrival and now Annhilation. They’d make a good triptych. Science fiction that’s prepared to do everything that good sci-fi does but without any urge to labour the point or force answers on anyone.
Annhilation is unsettling in all the right ways. Hopefully, now on Netflix, and wherever else it ends up, it will find an audience.