' ); } }) .catch(function(err) { (console.error || console.log)(err); }); }());

‘Annihilation’ review

'Annihilation' is a nightmare-fueling journey into the unknown

Adaptations of novels typically go one of two ways: Either the filmmaker attempts to bring the story to the screen as faithfully as possible, or the adaptation forges its own path using the premise of the source material (or what the filmmaker believes to be the premise) as a starting point.

Either strategy can succeed — or fail — in the end, and it’s the quality of the final product that ultimately determines whether the film stands on its own.

Outside of a few overt creature effects, many of the scares in Annihilation are of the psychological variety.

Alex Garland’s latest film, Annihilation, follows the second of the two aforementioned adaptation formulas, peeling away layers of Jeff VanderMeer’s heady sci-fi novel of the same name and utilizing the core of the story to spin its own, unique tale. The end result is a film that offers much of the same creeping horror and disturbing uncertainty that made its source material a best-seller, but could leave audiences expecting a more straightforward story frustrated.

Directed and adapted for the screen by Garland, Annihilation follows a team of five female scientists tasked with entering a strange geographic anomaly dubbed “Area X” that has previously had multiple expeditions disappear within its shimmering border. Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former soldier who joins the latest expedition into Area X in order to find a cure for her husband (played by Ex Machina actor Oscar Isaac), whose body and memory were destroyed after being the first to leave Area X.

Portman is the headliner on the film, but the story’s expedition is led by a psychologist played by Oscar nominee Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) who has her own reasons for venturing inside the mysterious region. They’re joined by characters played by Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok), and Tuva Novotny (Rosemari), each with their own discipline that they bring to the expedition.

Garland’s adaptation of Annihilation is his second directorial feature after 2014’s acclaimed sci-fi drama Ex Machina, and the latest film follows a similar course in posing some deep, difficult questions and asking his audience to come along on a journey that doesn’t promise any clear answers. Fortunately, he has a knack for making the journey itself compelling enough to feel satisfying, even when its resolution is less so.

Annihilation is cut from the same heady cloth as 2001: A Space Odyssey and its ilk.

As the focal point of the film, Portman’s biologist serves as the audience’s lens into the surreal environment of Area X that is both like our world and something unnervingly different. Garland and Portman give the character significantly more depth than she had in the source material, but she remains — much like Area X — both familiar and strangely distant at times.

All of the members of the expedition are given a basic level of development in Annihilation — just enough to affirm their humanity without feeling invested in any of them individually — but Garland wisely keeps the focus on Area X. This is a strategy that worked well in VanderMeer’s novel, which refrained from even giving the characters names (they were simply referred to as “biologist,” “psychologist,” etc.), and creates a similarly eerie sense of detachment in Garland’s adaptation.

Outside of a few overt creature effects, many of the scares in Annihilation are of the psychological variety, leaning more heavily on graphic imagery and the audience’s anticipation of horror than any clearly defined threat. The terror of Area X is in the unknown, and Garland wisely keeps the balance of what is certain and uncertain heavily favoring the latter.

Although both of Garland’s films have been relatively low-budget productions, neither Ex Machina nor Annihilation have felt shortchanged in the realm of visual effects. Ex Machina took home an Oscar for its painstaking creation of the android Ava, while Annihilation delivers some potent nightmare fuel of its own with its creature effects and richly detailed set.

Garland is an expert at making every scene resonate, and Annihilation offers plenty of opportunities for him to deliver moments that stick with the audience on a deep, visceral level.

The film is at its best when it’s raising questions and exploring the next frightening mystery that Area X has to offer, but falters a bit when it diverts its focus to its human characters. Some character-based plot points seem unnecessary at best and shoehorned in at worst, but Garland wisely keeps the action outside Area X to a minimum, opting instead to take his time exploring the mysteries the unique setting has to offer.

VanderMeer’s story plays well to Garland’s strengths as a filmmaker, and both writers’ willingness to leave questions unanswered is a big part of what works for Annihilation in each of these forms. Although VanderMeer’s story spawned a pair of sequels that clarified some of the story surrounding Area X, Garland’s film offers no such promises and feels content to leave its audience pondering the mysteries at hand as the credits finally roll.

Audiences will be best served by leaving their expectations at the door.

That open-ended exploration of the film’s primary plot device feels appropriate for the story, but is likely to frustrate audiences expecting a more traditional sci-fi movie. Annihilation is cut from the same heady cloth as 2001: A Space Odyssey and its ilk (almost unapologetically so), and doesn’t shy away from letting its audience come to their own conclusions about the greater meaning behind all of the stunning, frightening imagery it offers up.

At a time when most sci-fi films hitting theaters are either sequels or superhero stories, Annihilation is a success on two fronts: It’s both an impressively unique movie and a surprisingly satisfying adaptation of a novel that seemed incapable of adaptation. Audiences will be best served by leaving their expectations at the door with Annihilation, and simply enjoying the weird, terrifying expedition into the unknown.

Business

‘The Grinch’ steals the box-office crown from ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

Dr. Seuss' The Grinch is the new box-office champion, knocking off Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody and posting a better opening weekend than Jim Carrey's 2000 live-action film based on the character.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (November 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in November, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Dracula’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

He created comics, movies, and superheroes. But Stan Lee lived for joy

Stan Lee was a creator, a celebrity, an icon, and beneath it all, a real-life good guy with all the same human qualities that made his superheroes so relatable. And his greatest joy was sharing his creations with the world.
Movies & TV

The ‘Toy Story 4’ teaser trailer is here to fork with your emotions

Disney released the first teaser trailer for its latest addition to the Toy Story franchise. The quick glimpse of what's to come shows all our favorite toys back in action, as well as a strange -- and seemingly unhinged -- new character.
Gaming

Everyone’s favorite Pokémon turns gumshoe in ‘Detective Pikachu’ trailer

The first Detective Pikachu trailer has arrived, and it looks like a video game movie could actually be good? Voiced by Ryan Reynolds, Pikachu is undeniably cute in what is shaping up to be a family-friendly buddy comedy.
Movies & TV

Stan Lee has died: Marvel Comics icon and legendary creator dead at 95

Stan Lee, one of the world's most important and iconic comic-book authors, has died at the age of 95. Creator of some of the most famous and beloved superheroes and villains of all time, Lee leaves behind an indelible legacy.
Movies & TV

Winter coming in spring? HBO reveals 'Game of Thrones' season 8 premiere date

With the eighth and final season looming, Game of Thrones fever has officially become a pandemic. Our list of all the relevant news and rumors will help make the wait more bearable, if you don't mind spoilers.
Movies & TV

One popular character won't be returning for 'John Wick 3: Parabellum'

The third installment of the wildly successful action series that stars Keanu Reeves as a deadly assassin forced out of retirement, John Wick 3: Parabellum, hits theaters in May 2019. Here's everything we know about the movie so far.
Home Theater

What is MHL, exactly, and how does it work with your TV?

There are more ways to mirror your smartphone or tablet to your TV than you might think. Check out our rundown of MHL for everything you need to know about the wired protocol and its myriad uses.
Movies & TV

Star Wars series 'The Mandalorian' adds 'Deadpool' actress Gina Carano

The Mandalorian, Jon Favreau's live-action Star Wars series planned for Disney's streaming video service, will be one of the most expensive television shows ever made. Here's everything we know about it so far.