by Toby Woollaston
“It is the beginning of the end!”—nope, it’s not a quote from writer/director Alex Garland’s latest cerebral sci-fi, but me, crying in frustration as to the reasons why this sensory extravaganza wasn’t released on the big screen outside of North America and China. Paramount, in all their “we’ve got cold feet” wisdom has handed the release over to Netflix, thus signalling the beginning of the silver-screen apocalypse and the inexorable transition of new releases to an exclusive small screen market. Garland will be screaming blue murder when he sees bus bound hoards watching his work of art on five-inch phones and a pair of junky earbuds. Shame on you Paramount.
Ok, now I’ve got that off my chest, I can turn my attention to the film at hand, because it’s really good. Garland’s first film, Ex Machina, was the kind of debut that made many critics sit up and pay attention. In that film, Garland (who also wrote the original screenplay) explored the sinister side of artificial intelligence and proceeded to gouge out the male gaze with a white-hot poker of female vengeance … an oddly liberating experience. Here, in his sophomore outing, Garland continues to keep things female-centric, with a predominantly female cast.
Searching for reasons surrounding her husband’s disappearance, Lena (Natalie Portman) decides to join a team of scientists embarking on a research mission into a newly discovered anomaly called “the shimmer”—an unexplained malignant cancerous growth that is spreading throughout the coastal bayous of a sleepy American coastline, rendering all the flora and fauna within its bubble an unpredictable and potentially hostile mutation. As the team ventures deeper into the shimmer, the film reveals it’s secrets through a series of flashbacks that recount her husband, Kane’s (Oscar Isaac) fate.
It is a brooding, haunting, and at times quite scary sci-fi brain-burner about many things, not least a painful allegory of the ruthless ambivalence of cancer. Its fractured structure also mirrors the film’s prismatic themes about identity and the brutally unsentimental march of genetic diversity.
Throughout, Garland gives a few knowing nods many other films of its ilk, in particular, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, and like that masterpiece, Annihilation is a beautifully rendered head-scratcher that will have you pensively juggling theories long after leaving the cinema, I mean, logging out of your Netflix account … *sigh* please, for the love of all that’s good, just don’t watch it on your phone.
See more of my NZME reviews here.