Annihilation is a 2018 science fiction horror film written and directed by Alex Garland, based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. It stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac. The story follows a group of military scientists who enter "The Shimmer", a mysterious quarantined zone of mutating landscapes and transforming creatures. The film is based on the novel of the same title by Jeff VanderMeer, the first in his Southern Reach Trilogy.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alex Garland|
|Screenplay by||Alex Garland|
by Jeff VanderMeer
|Edited by||Barney Pilling|
|Box office||$43.1 million|
Annihilation was released theatrically in Canada and the United States by Paramount Pictures on February 23, 2018 and in China on April 13, 2018. Across all three countries, it grossed $43 million against a production budget between $40–55 million. It was released digitally by Netflix in a number of other countries on March 12, 2018. The film received praise for its visuals, acting, direction and thought-provoking story. According to Jonathan Pile of Empire magazine, the film addresses "depression, grief and the human propensity for self-destruction".
At "Area X", a government facility on the southern coast of the US, Lena, a cellular-biology professor and former soldier, is in quarantine. She undergoes a debriefing about a four month expedition into an anomalous iridescent electromagnetic field called "the Shimmer" from which she and her husband Kane are the only survivors.
In flashback, Lena's husband, an Army Special Forces soldier, appears in their home after having gone missing on a mission nearly a year ago. He remembers nothing of that time and suddenly becomes very ill. A government security force intercepts Kane's ambulance and transports him and Lena to Area X, near where the Shimmer had begun to spread three years earlier. A psychologist, Dr. Ventress, explains that military teams, including Kane's, have ventured into the Shimmer to attempt to reach the lighthouse where the phenomenon first appeared. Kane is the only person to have ever returned from an expedition. Lena volunteers to join Ventress on a research expedition consisting of two scientists, Josie and Cassie, and a paramedic, Anya.
Guidance technology fails, the expedition members realize they are unable to remember extended stretches of time, and a mutated alligator attacks Josie. The team rescues her and learns that the alligator shows signs of being hybridized with a shark. At an abandoned military base, the team discovers evidence of Kane's expedition along with a memory card left for them. A video on it shows Kane cutting open the stomach of a fellow expedition member while he was still alive, revealing that his intestines have begun to wriggle in a worm-like manner. That night, the base's perimeter fence is torn open, prompting everyone to investigate. Suddenly, a mutated bear drags Cassie away; the following morning, the team finds one of her boots. Lena searches further, alone, and she discovers Cassie's mutilated corpse. Lena returns to the team and reports that Cassie has died.
As the team continues toward the lighthouse at the center of the Shimmer, they find a decayed settlement with human-shaped plants outside it. Josie says she thinks the Shimmer is acting on organisms in the manner of a prism, distorting and refracting DNA in the same way that a prism refracts light. The expedition members realize they are slowly changing as well. That night, Anya descends into a psychotic state, attacking and restraining the other team members. As she is threatening them, Anya hears what sounds like Cassie crying for help outside and investigates. The bear that killed Cassie enters the house, its roar imitating Cassie's dying screams. It kills Anya and attacks Lena before Josie can shoot it dead.
Ventress leaves Lena and Josie to complete the journey while she still can. Josie muses that she doesn't want to go on and begins to grow flowers from her body. She walks away from Lena and disappears among the human-shaped plants. Lena reaches the lighthouse and goes inside, finding an incinerated corpse, a video-camera and a hole in the floor. Footage on the camera shows Kane ranting about the Shimmer's effects on him. He urges the cameraman to find Lena, then commits suicide with a white-phosphorus grenade, after which a doppelgänger of his walks into view.
Lena descends into the hole in the floor and finds Ventress, who has also begun to mutate. Ventress tells Lena the forces at work will eventually encompass "everything", before disintegrating into a fiery nebulous structure that absorbs a drop of blood from Lena's face and creates a humanoid being. Lena attempts to escape the lighthouse but the humanoid stops her, mirroring her movements. Lena passes out which the humanoid does as well. Somehow, Lena's head bleeds streaming down her cheeks as soon she wakes up. Lena turns around to the humanoid and catches it copying her. She give it a grenade and holds its other hand. The humanoid gradually transforms into an identical copy of her. Lena opens the grenade, and activates it which it explodes causing the humanoid to shine and transform back into its official self and the humanoid watches Lena run outside and leave it alone. The being is set ablaze, flames engulf the lighthouse, the various constructs in the area collapse, and the Shimmer dissipates to nothing.
Lena is sent back to Area X where they debrief her about the Shimmer in front of all the other doctors watching. Lena admits to them that she was the one who attacked the shimmer and that it was not exactly destroying it was just trying to make something new but is unsure what it was making. She asks them where her husband is and they bring her to Kane, who has recovered rapidly with the Shimmer having ceased to exist. She asks him if he is the "real" Kane, to which he replies, "I don't think so." He asks her if she is Lena, but she does not answer him. The two embrace, and their irises shift to Shimmer colors.
- Natalie Portman as Lena
- Kristen McGarrity as Lena's double
- Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Ventress
- Gina Rodriguez as Anya Thorensen
- Tessa Thompson as Josie Radek
- Tuva Novotny as Cassie "Cass" Sheppard
- Oscar Isaac as Kane
- Benedict Wong as Lomax
- Sonoya Mizuno as Katie
- Mizuno also portrays a humanoid
- David Gyasi as Daniel
In March 2013, it was announced that Paramount Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions had acquired the film rights to Annihilation, the first novel in Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy, and that the film would be produced by Scott Rudin and Eli Bush. Alex Garland was hired to adapt and direct the film the next year. Garland revealed to Creative Screenwriting that his adaptation was necessarily based on only the first novel in the trilogy:
At the point I started working on Annihilation, there was only one of the three books. I knew that it was planned as a trilogy by the author, but there was only the manuscript for the first book. I really didn't think too much about the trilogy side of it.
Garland's film is "an adaptation which was a memory of the book", rather than book-referenced screenwriting, with the intention of capturing the "dreamlike nature" and tone of his experience reading VanderMeer's novel. Rather than trying to directly adapt the book Garland deliberately took the story in his own direction, with VanderMeer's permission. Garland did not read the other two books when they arrived, as he was concerned he would need to revise his script. Others informed him of the elements of the books, and he expressed surprise at some of the correlations.
Prior to its release, the film drew criticism for the casting of Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh as characters who are, in the later books, described as Asian and of half Native American descent, respectively. Garland stated that none of the five female characters' ethnicity is mentioned in the first book, which was the only one of the trilogy he had read, and that the script was complete before the second book was published. He cast the characters based on his reaction only to the actors he had met in the casting process, or actors he had worked with before.
Principal photography was underway by April 2016, when actor David Gyasi was added to the cast. Location filming by Lighthouse Pictures Ltd occurred starting in late April in South Forest, Windsor Great Park. Some test shooting had already been done in St. Marks, Florida, but the vegetation in the area turned out to be too dense to give any depth perception on screen. On May 9, 2016, cinematographer Rob Hardy began sharing pictures from the set of the film. On July 13 and 14, filming took place at Holkham Pines in North Norfolk. Shooting was completed that month.
The visual effect team was made up of many of Garland's collaborators from his previous film, Ex Machina, including VFX Supervisor Andrew Whitehurst, lead VFX house Double Negative and Milk VFX, plus special makeup effects by Tristan Versluis.
Due to a poorly received test screening, David Ellison, a financier and producer at Paramount, became concerned that the film was "too intellectual" and "too complicated", and demanded changes to make it appeal to a wider audience, including making Portman's character more sympathetic, and changing the ending. Producer Scott Rudin sided with the director, who did not want to alter the film. Rudin, who had final cut privilege, defended the film and refused to take notes from Ellison.
On December 7, 2017, it was announced that due to the clashes between Rudin and Ellison, and the shift in Paramount's leadership, a deal was struck allowing Netflix to distribute the film internationally. According to this deal, Paramount would handle the American, Canadian and Chinese release, while Netflix would begin streaming the film in other territories 17 days later.
Garland expressed his disappointment with the decision to allow digital distribution, by saying:
We made the film for cinema. I've got no problem with the small screen at all. The best genre piece I've seen in a long time was The Handmaid's Tale, so I think there's incredible potential within that context, but if you're doing that—you make it for that [exhibition format] and you think of it in those terms. Look… it is what it is. The film is getting a theatrical release in the States, which I'm really pleased about. One of the big pluses of Netflix is that it goes out to a lot of people and you don't have that strange opening weekend thing where you're wondering if anyone is going to turn up and then if they don't, it vanishes from cinema screens in two weeks. So it's got pluses and minuses, but from my point of view and the collective of the people who made it—[it was made] to be seen on a big screen.
As of May 12, 2018[update], Annihilation has grossed $32.7 million in the United States and Canada and $10.3 million in China, for a worldwide total of $43 million, against a net production budget of $40 million. It has been branded one of the biggest box office bombs of 2018.
In North America, Annihilation was released in alongside Game Night and Every Day, and was projected to gross $10–12 million from 2,012 theaters in its opening weekend. The film made $3.9 million on its first day (including $900,000 from Thursday night previews at 1,850 theaters). It ended up making $11 million over the weekend, finishing fourth, behind Black Panther, Game Night and Peter Rabbit. In its second weekend the film dropped 49% to $5.9 million, falling to 6th place.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 87%, based on 237 reviews, and an average rating of 7.7/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Annihilation backs up its sci-fi visual wonders and visceral genre thrills with an impressively ambitious—and surprisingly strange—exploration of challenging themes that should leave audiences pondering long after the end credits roll." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 79 out of 100, based on reviews from 49 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it a 71% overall positive score.
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 4 out of 4 stars, praising it for taking risks, and saying: "Kudos to Garland and the cast, but bravo to Scott Rudin as well. Apparently you knew a masterpiece when you saw it, and you made sure we were able to see it as well." Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers complimented the cast and Garland's writing and direction, giving the film 3.5 stars out of 4 and saying, "Garland need make no apologies for Annihilation. It's a bracing brainteaser with the courage of its own ambiguity. You work out the answers in your own head, in your own time, in your own dreams, where the best sci-fi puzzles leave things." Conversely, The Economist described the film as "tightrope-walking the fine line between open-ended, mind-expanding mystery and lethargic, pretentious twaddle", but praised its final half hour.
Nerdist Industries' Kyle Anderson called Annihilation "a movie that deserves several viewings, and your brain's whole attention". Anderson commented that the film has little to do with the novel that it was based on, and is similar to H. P. Lovecraft's 1927 short story "The Colour Out of Space", about a meteor that lands in a swamp and unleashes a plague. Chris McCoy of the Memphis Flyer also found the film reminiscent of "The Colour Out of Space" as well as the novel Roadside Picnic (1971) and its film adaptation, Stalker (1979).
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... the production budget, which is in the $55 million range ...
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In this [adaptation] instance it was like an adaptation of the atmosphere.
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