Annihilation is a 2018 science fiction horror film written and directed by Alex Garland, based on the 2014 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 explorers who enter "The Shimmer", a mysterious quarantined zone of mutating plants and animals caused by an alien presence.
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 the three countries, it grossed $43 million against a production budget between $40–55 million, becoming a box office bomb. 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 Empire Magazine, the film addresses "depression, grief, and the human propensity for self-destruction".
At a top secret U.S. government facility codenamed Area X, cellular biology professor and Army veteran Lena is questioned after returning as the sole survivor of an expedition to an anomalous zone known as the "Shimmer". Three years prior, the Shimmer emerged from a meteor that landed inside a lighthouse on the coast of the southern United States, and is gradually expanding its boundaries. Lena's husband Kane, a Green Beret, was part of an earlier expedition and reappears at their home after a year of absence, unable to explain where he was or how he came back. His condition quickly deteriorates and Lena calls an ambulance, but they are intercepted by security forces and taken to Area X. With Kane in intensive care, a government psychologist, Dr. Ventress, shows Lena the Shimmer and explains that many exploratory teams have entered, but only Kane has ever returned. Ventress prepares to lead a new scientific expedition into the Shimmer, consisting of Lena, physicist Josie Radek, geomorphologist Cassie "Cass" Sheppard, and paramedic Anya Thorensen.
The group enters the Shimmer, and Lena has a vision of her past affair with a colleague, which occurred prior to Kane's disappearance. When the group awakens after suddenly falling unconscious, they find their communications and navigation equipment no longer function, approximately three to four days have passed, and they do not remember anything after entering the Shimmer. They encounter mutated plants and animals, and Josie is attacked by an albino alligator with rows of shark-like teeth but survives. At an abandoned military base, they find a video message from Kane's expedition, showing him trying to perform field surgery on another soldier's abdomen only to find his intestines moving on their own. The group finds the soldier's corpse, now appearing to have mutated into an overgrown colony of lichens, given how the organs are spread.
At night, the base is attacked by a mutant bear that drags Cass away, and Lena later finds her mutilated remains. Reaching an abandoned village, they discover plants that have taken on human-like forms. Josie theorizes that the Shimmer functions as a prism for DNA, distorting and transforming everything within its boundaries, and that the group is already beginning to mutate. Anya, overcome with paranoia after watching the patterns of her fingerprints change, ties up the others and accuses Lena of murdering Cass. The bear lures Anya away by emitting a cry for help in Cass's voice and kills her by tearing her jaw off. Josie frees herself and shoots the bear dead.
Ventress, who has terminal cancer and is determined to learn the truth behind the Shimmer before she dies, leaves alone for the lighthouse. Josie and Lena realize that the Shimmer's “refractions” are already inside their bodies; Josie shares her opinion that Cass's dying mind was "refracted" into the bear, and wanders off before her body transforms into plant matter. Lena, believing that Kane deliberately accepted the suicide mission into the Shimmer because she cheated on him, reaches the lighthouse and discovers his remains and another video message. In the footage, Kane tells the man filming to find Lena, and commits suicide with an incendiary grenade; the other man is revealed to be an alien doppelgänger who assumed Kane's identity.
Lena descends into the hole created by the meteor and finds Ventress, who reveals that the forces behind the Shimmer will spread to encompass everything. She then disintegrates into a glowing nebulous structure that absorbs a drop of blood from Lena's face, creating a humanoid entity that mimics Lena's motions. Unable to escape the entity as it mirrors her, Lena hands it one of her phosphorus grenades, and it transforms into an identical copy of her. Lena activates the grenade and flees from the lighthouse, but the creature does not follow. Set ablaze by the grenade, the creature affectionately touches Kane's burned body before crawling back into the hole and igniting the core of the lighthouse. Lena watches as the constructs of the Shimmer collapse, and it fades away.
At the facility, Lena's interviewer reveals that Kane has recovered after the Shimmer vanished. Lena visits him, and asks if he is really Kane; he replies, "I don't think so". He asks if she is Lena, and she does not answer. Kane embraces Lena, and their irises shimmer.
- Natalie Portman as Lena
- 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 the Humanoid
- David Gyasi as Daniel
- Sammy Hayman as Mayer
- Josh Danford as Shelley
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 explained 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 said his adaptation is "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 similarities.
Though based on the original novel by VanderMeer, for some critics the film betrays obvious similarities with the science-fiction novel Roadside Picnic and its 1979 movie adaptation, Stalker. While Nerdist Industries' Kyle Anderson noted even stronger resemblance with the 1927 short story "The Colour Out of Space" by H. P. Lovecraft (also adapted for the screen on several occasions, including as Color Out of Space in 2019), about a meteorite that lands in a swamp and unleashes a mutagenic plague, Chris McCoy of the Memphis Flyer found the film (Annihilation) reminiscent both of "The Colour Out of Space", as well as the novel (Roadside Picnic) and its film adaptation (Stalker). VanderMeer categorically stated that the original novel "is 100% NOT a tribute to Picnic/Stalker" but this has been met with considerable skepticism.
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 Skydance, 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.
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 that had been published when the script was completed. 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.
The film was released theatrically in the United States on February 23, 2018, by Paramount Pictures, and digitally in other markets on March 12, 2018, by Netflix. Garland expressed his disappointment with the decision to coincide digital distribution with theatrical, saying, "We made the film for cinema." On January 5, 2019, the film was released digitally on Netflix's competitor Hulu.
Annihilation grossed $32.7 million in the United States and Canada and $10.3 million in China, for a worldwide total of $43.1 million, against a production budget of $40–55 million. The film was branded one of the biggest theatrical box office bombs of 2018.
In North America, Annihilation was released 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 Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 88%, based on 312 reviews, with an average rating of 7.70/10. 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 51 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 four out of four, 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." 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.
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