Annihilation is a 2018 science fiction psychological 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.
|Directed by||Alex Garland|
|Screenplay by||Alex Garland|
by Jeff VanderMeer
|Edited by||Barney Pilling|
|Box office||$43.1 million|
Released theatrically in the United States by Paramount Pictures on February 23, 2018, and in China on April 13, Annihilation was released digitally by Netflix in a number of other countries on March 12, 2018. It received positive reviews from critics and audiences, and grossed $43 million worldwide. According to Empire magazine, the film addresses "depression, grief, and the human propensity for self-destruction".
Cellular biology professor and former U.S. Army soldier Lena is under interrogation. She was part of an expedition to an anomalous zone known as the "Shimmer", but she was the only one to return.
The Shimmer emerged three years prior from a meteor that landed in a lighthouse in the St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, and it is gradually expanding and increasing its boundaries. Many exploratory expeditions were organized, but only Lena's husband Kane returns home after a year of absence.
Kane cannot explain where he was and how he came back, and his condition quickly deteriorates. Lena calls an ambulance, but she and Kane are intercepted by security forces and taken to a secret facility.
As Kane is put in intensive care, psychologist Dr. Ventress prepares a new scientific expedition into the Shimmer, and Lena joins her. Three other women participate in the expedition: Cass, a geomorphologist; Anya, a paramedic; and Josie, a physicist.
Communication equipment does not function within the Shimmer's territory, and the expedition encounters unusually mutated plants and animals. Josie is attacked by an albino alligator with several concentric rows of teeth.
At an abandoned military base, the group finds a video message from Kane's expedition, in which Kane cuts open another soldier's abdomen with a knife to reveal slithering intestines. The group finds the soldier's corpse, which has turned into an overgrown colony of lichens.
At night, the base is attacked by a mutant bear that drags Cassie away, and Lena later finds her mutilated body. Within an abandoned village, Josie studies plants that have taken on a humanoid form, and theorizes that the Shimmer functions as a prism, distorting and transforming everything that falls within its boundaries—including the expedition members' own DNA.
Anya, overcome with paranoia after watching her fingerprints change, disarms the other members and ties them to chairs, and accuses Lena of murdering Cassie. The mutant bear returns and lures Anya away by emitting a cry for help in Cassie's voice. The bear kills Anya, while Josie frees herself and shoots the bear.
Ventress leaves the group and heads for the lighthouse, the center of the Shimmer. Josie believes Cassie's dying mind was "refracted" into the bear, and then allows herself to "refract" into a humanoid plant to avoid a similar fate.
Lena follows Ventress to the lighthouse, where she discovers Kane's remains and a videotape. In the footage, Kane leaves an instruction to find Lena before killing himself with a phosphorus grenade. After the explosion, a doppelgänger of Kane steps into frame.
Within the hole created by the meteor, Lena finds Ventress, who explains that the Shimmer will eventually swallow everything. Ventress then disintegrates into a shimmering cloud that absorbs a drop of blood from Lena's face and changes into a faceless, shimmering, humanoid being that mimics Lena's movements.
Unable to escape the creature, Lena tricks it into igniting one of Kane's leftover grenades as it transforms into her doppelgänger. Lena flees the burning lighthouse and the Shimmer dissipates.
Lena visits the Kane doppelgänger, and asks if he is really Kane, which he doubts. He asks if she is Lena, but she does not answer. They embrace 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 (Med Student)
- Mizuno also provided the motion capture performance for "Humanoid"
- David Gyasi as Daniel
Paramount Pictures and Scott Rudin acquired the film rights to Annihilation, the then-unpublished first novel in Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy, on March 26, 2013. Rudin and Eli Bush were set to produce the film, and Alex Garland, who had previously worked with Rudin and Bush on Ex Machina, was hired to write and direct the film in October 2014.
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 were completed, as he was concerned he would need to revise his script. When others informed him of elements of the sequels, he expressed surprise at some of the similarities to what he had written.
Some critics have noted the film has similarities with Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's 1972 science-fiction novel Roadside Picnic and Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 film adaptation, Stalker. Nerdist Industries' Kyle Anderson noted an even stronger resemblance to 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), which is about a meteorite that lands in a swamp and unleashes a mutagenic plague. In his review, Chris McCoy of the Memphis Flyer found Annihilation to be reminiscent of both "The Colour Out of Space" and Roadside Picnic/Stalker. VanderMeer stated that the original novel "is 100% NOT a tribute to Picnic/Stalker", but rather drew influences from works by J. G. Ballard and Franz Kafka.
The first cast member to join Annihilation was Natalie Portman, who entered negotiations with Paramount in May 2015, under the agreement that production not begin until 2016. Once Portman had agreed to play the biologist, the next cast member added was Gina Rodriguez, who entered talks with the studio in November 2015. By that point, production was set to begin in early 2016, a decision made to accommodate Portman's schedule, but which also meant that the film would be shot during Rodriguez's break from filming Jane the Virgin. Oscar Isaac, who had previously worked with Garland in Ex Machina, joined the cast in March 2016 as the husband of Portman's character. By the end of April, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and David Gyasi were also attached to the project.
In the Southern Reach novels, the Biologist is described as being of Asian descent and the Psychologist is mixed-race and half-Indigenous. As Portman and Leigh, who are both Caucasian, were cast in those roles, in 2018 the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and the American Indians in Film and Television advocacy groups accused Garland of whitewashing. Garland responded by saying that there was "nothing cynical or conspiratorial" about the casting, and that the book in which the characters' races are revealed, Authority, had not been released when Annihilation was written and cast. Portman also responded to the controversy, saying that she did not know her character had a specific ethnicity until whitewashing concerns were raised, and that Garland had intentionally not spoken to VanderMeer about the other two Southern Reach novels because he wanted to focus on adapting Annihilation.
Principal photography for the film was underway by April 2016, when actor David Gyasi was added to the cast. Lighthouse Pictures Ltd started location filming in late April in South Forest, Windsor Great Park. Some test shooting had 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 had been 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.
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.
Box office edit
The film 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. While it did not amass much in terms of box office, the film found new life in home release, with some publications arguing it could become a cult classic.
Domestically, Annihilation was released alongside Game Night and Every Day, and was projected to gross $10–12 million from 2,012 theaters during its opening weekend. It made $3.9 million on its first day (including $900,000 from Thursday night previews at 1,850 theaters), and ended up making $11 million over the weekend, finishing fourth, behind Black Panther, Game Night, and Peter Rabbit. Its second weekend, the film's box office total dropped 49% to $5.9 million, falling to 6th place.
Critical response edit
On film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 88% based on 331 reviews, and an average score of 7.7/10; the site's "critics 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, and PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it a 71% overall positive score.
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four 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 three and a half stars out of four, 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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In this [adaptation] instance it was like an adaptation of the atmosphere.
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