My first impression when I saw the first trailer for Annihilation was “dang, that movie looks super pretty”, my second was, “is this an all-female cast in a sci-fi flick!?”, and my third was “I think I’m going to love this movie.” Last weekend my wife and I finally got around to watching it, and it turns out that while it is absolutely gorgeous and mostly female-led, it had a lot of elements that made it really hard for me to love it.
I won’t spend much time on the visuals, because looking at the trailer really tells you more than I ever could. This movie looks incredible. The characters spend most of their time in a trippy wonderland full of mutated plants and animals, which means bright colors and exaggerated designs everywhere, except for at night when things get incredibly dark and claustrophobic and tense. It’s like there are no middle sliders on the visual settings for this flick, everything is pushed to the extremes, and it’s wonderful.
On to the cast, there are six main performers in this movie, and it’s still incredible to me that five of them are female. It was so refreshing for a science fiction movie to emphasize women this way, especially since all five of them were scientists of one sort or another. Tessa Thompson, in particular, stood out to me as doing a really incredible job of playing a quiet, introspective physicist, especially in contrast with her role in Thor: Ragnarok. Oscar Isaac rounds out the cast as Natalie Portman’s husband, and his story is actually the impetus for her involvement in the plot. I was surprised at how much of the story focused on his character, but it was still awesome to see the typical gender balance reversed.
Now for the stuff that didn’t work for me. This is where we are going to get into spoiler territory because, in short, I have no idea what this movie was about.
The basic structure seems to be that we’re watching this story to see a mystery get solved. Like, “There’s something weird, let’s go look at it and figure it out.” Right off the bat, the characters wake up with memory loss. Okay, that’s weird, but I’m sure it’ll get explained… oh wait, nope, it doesn’t. And that just keeps happening. There’s a tattoo that moves from person to person, there are clones, there’s an alien lifeform that’s maybe just acting on instinct or is maybe trying to take over the world… The characters uncover more and more and more weirdness and things make less and less sense right up to the final shot, which throws a plot twist on the only meager explanation we did get.
I looked up a few “explanation” type articles after watching the movie, and none of them seemed to know what was actually going on either. It seemed like basically everyone just shrugged at the story, and then talked about how gorgeous the movie was… which I guess is basically what I’ve done in this post, too…
So, yeah. Annihilation is a really pretty science-fiction film with a mostly female cast with a story that makes just about zero sense. I’m glad that I watched it, and I think I liked it, but I can’t help thinking it would have been a whole lot better if I had any idea what the heck was going on.