Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Annihilation (2018) - Horror Film Review

I am experiencing a slight drought at the moment when it comes to items I have been sent to review. The upside of that is that I am finally getting time to work though the horror films I have pegged to watch on Netflix and Shudder. Today was the turn of Annihilation, this turned out to be a really well made and interesting film that pleasantly surprised me.

Lena (Natalie Portman - Black Swan) is a biologist whose soldier husband Kane (Oscar Isaac - Ex Machina) vanished a year previous while on a covert operation. One day he mysteriously appears in their house and before collapsing states he has no idea where he has been, or how he came to be back at the house. While taking him to hospital, soldiers take her and Kane into custody and she ends up at a military research site next to a strange phenomenon. Two years ago an environmental disaster occurred in remote America, originating at a lighthouse. Since that time a force named as a 'shimmer' has slowly spread outwards from the source. Anyone who enters the shimmer doesn't return and it is not known what happens to people who enter. Looking for answers Lena teams up with an all female group of scientists who plan to head to the lighthouse at the epicentre of the event to try and find a way to stop the shimmer from expanding any further.

I really enjoyed Annihilation, I loved how intriguing the idea behind it was, and how it never explains much of just what is going on. There are so many enjoyable elements here that create a thick level of mystery that is only observed by the five strong team rather than solved. It uses one of my favourite types of plot devices in that in present day Lena is in an isolation room being debriefed by a hazmat wearing scientist about just what happened. The film goes back to the present quite a few times as the film progresses which adds in questions that make you want to know more. For instance she is told she has been gone four months, yet as far as she was aware it had only been a week or so. Also she appears to be the only survivor so by that fact it makes you want to know just what happened to the rest of the characters.

This is a movie whose core theme is self destruction with all the characters doing that to a certain extent. The fact that the shimmer is a place no one has returned from is the biggest indicator of this notion of self destruction, but it is also shown in flashbacks to a key event from Lena's past that may shed light on why Kane volunteered for this mission in the first place There is lots of science jargon and ideas that I did find a bit hard to follow, I never really understood what was occurring but that didn't take away my enjoyment of this cold hearted movie. The characters are all ones who verge on the negative, the stern psychologist Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh - Twin Peaks, eXistenZ), self harming Josie, aggressive Anya and mournful Sheppard are all likable enough but never show many positive emotions. Lena herself is shown to be a flawed heroine.

The best part about Annihilation is the adventure into the shimmer itself. There is a feeling of a video game in that it is known that the deeper into the event the characters get the stranger and more pronounced the effects of the shimmer is. The environment is dreamlike and full of odd purples and blues, with trees having bright coloured growths on them, and structures made out of glass. The most memorable part of this was when plants are discovered that have naturally grown into humanoid shapes, quite unsettling, coupled with the man made environments being reclaimed by nature led to a The Last of Us feeling of post apocalypse. There are a few action scenes, less than I expected, but when they happen they are very cool. A couple of mutated animals are encountered that include a giant crocodile and a mutant bear. These scenes are very tense, especially the one with the bear that has the unnerving ability to make noises resembling a human screaming. It culminates in a scene at the lighthouse itself that felt like something out of a H.P Lovecraft story in the best possible way. A strange mimic style dance between characters with the isolation and dread coming to the forefront.

This is all backed up by some pretty decent special effects, I was a bit unsure about the finale as it looked a little bit like CGI but I think it actually wasn't for the most part. The creature effects were great and while violence isn't really shown on screen the effects of it are, there is a shot of a body that has had its jaw ripped off, looked great, and an iconic part in a swimming pool with another corpse. The music is atmospheric and perfectly fits the tone of this also. I though the story was interesting, as I said I love that Lena is in the present telling her story, but I also like that the group while in the shimmer find video tapes left by the previous group that shed some light on the fates they met with, as well as explain the weird stuff that happened and likely contributed to them not coming back.

Annihilation was a decent horror with a good dose of mystique to it. Alex Garland (Ex Machina) directs solidly here, it felt similar at time to how Ex Machina was made, but with more going on, elements of lost time, of permanent unstoppable change, of the environment shaping you irreversibly, all fascinating topics. Garland writes an interesting story (this was based off a book but adapted for film by him). A captivating horror that really appealed to me, it is currently on Netflix so you should definitely give it a go.


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