Annihilation (2018) — A journey into the heart of weirdness

“It’s not destroying. It’s making something new.”

Justin’s rating: Only the Care Bears can push this bubble of bad feelings back!

Justin’s review: “We’re all damaged goods here.”

The bruises and pains of five women become the heart of 2018’s Annihilation, a strange scifi film that’s in many ways a modern Heart of Darkness. There’s a whole lot of alien tinkering and bursts of action and moments of horror that abound here, but at the core of it all are five women trudging into the terrifying unknown while backpacking in their own damaged goods.

The events of this creepy and somewhat slowly paced movie gradually unveil the central mystery of this setting. A meteorite strikes a lighthouse in North America and spawns an oil slick bubble around it called “The Shimmer.” Nothing that goes inside ever comes out, which wouldn’t be a massive problem except that The Shimmer keeps expanding.

Three years after the event started, the government is close to being unable to hide it any longer. It’s at this same time that Kane (Oscar Isaac), a Green Beret sent into The Shimmer, comes back out a very changed and dying man. His wife Lena, played by Natalie Portman, agrees to join the next expeditionary group, this time made up of various female scientists.

Inside The Shimmer, they… well, without spoiling too much, they find a whole lot of weirdness. People, buildings, plants, and animals all experience change and mutation. Without the movie explicitly stating this, we’re staring down a very unusual apocalypse that’s threatening to expand over the entire globe, changing everything in its path. Unless they find answers and a source, it’s all going to be over for us sooner or later.

As I said, Annihilation is strange, and not just because it comes up with some crazy monsters. The music is an example of this: Instead of going creepy-scary or pumping up the action cues, the soundtrack goes with sad, introspective guitar noodling. Title cards and the framing interview of the film give it a slightly documentary feel, like we’re analyzing something well after the fact than being in the moment. And the team of five women who aren’t your Rambo-types — one’s a paramedic, for Pete’s sake — makes you wonder why any of them are even doing this.

I felt rather unsettled for most of its runtime — yet curious as well. I wanted to see what happened down this road trip through an alien Earth. I had to see what lay at the end of the road. Unfortunately, the lighthouse portion is easily the weakest part of the movie, floundering about with special effects and trying to appear deep without actually saying anything about anything. So great journey that stumbles at its destination.

Yet with so many same-old, same-old scifi stories out there, Annihilation feels daringly different even if it’s sometimes a little too stingy with the answers or resolution. It’s rare that you’re given a movie where you’re kept this off-balance and intrigued, and that’s worthy of being experienced.

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