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 plants and animals.
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".
Lena, a cellular-biology professor and former soldier, tells her story under interrogation by odd men in hazmat suits. Lena was happily married to Kane, who disappeared on a covert mission. Twelve months later, Kane suddenly comes home. He remembers nothing and expresses little. Suddenly, he vomits blood. Lena calls an ambulance, but she and Kane are intercepted by security forces and sedated.
Lena awakes in a secret facility. A psychologist, Dr. Ventress, explains that Kane's mission was to explore "the Shimmer", an expanding zone covered by iridescent light. The Shimmer emerged three years ago from a lighthouse in a national park. Ventress organized exploratory expeditions, but no one returned except Kane. Kane now remains unconscious and on life support. Lena learns Ventress is leading a new expedition with Anya the paramedic, Cassie the geomorphologist, and Josie the physicist. Lena volunteers to join them to help Kane, though she does not disclose her motives.
Upon entering the Shimmer, the team suddenly wakes up inside tents. They deduce several days have passed based on their supplies, but cannot remember what happened. Their communications and navigation equipment are also malfunctioning. Lena documents multiple flower species growing from single stems.
Josie is attacked by an alligator; after rescuing her, Lena finds it is hybridized with a shark. Cassie tells Lena that each teammate volunteered to escape self-destructive habits, and it is human nature to practice self-destruction. Lena remembers cheating with a married colleague during Kane's missions.
Reaching an abandoned building, the team discovers evidence of Kane's expedition, including a video of Kane cutting open a living teammate to reveal slithering intestines. The team discovers the teammate’s grotesque remains shortly afterwards.
That night, a mutated bear drags Cassie away. Ventress insists on continuing to the lighthouse; Lena guesses correctly that Ventress is secretly dying of cancer and wants to solve the Shimmer before she dies. Lena lies to Anya and Josie, saying that following Ventress is actually a safer route home. As they continue, Lena discovers Cassie's mutilated corpse.
The group finds human-shaped plants. Josie realizes the Shimmer scrambles all information; it refracts light and radio waves, which scrambles communications, and creates hybrids by scrambling and mixing DNA. The team realizes the Shimmer is changing their bodies, and Lena's microscope shows their cells dividing into new forms.
Anya becomes unstable after watching her fingerprints change. When she finds Kane’s picture in Lena’s pendant, Anya ties up her teammates and accuses Lena of murdering Cassie. She almost kills Lena, but hears Cassie screaming. The screams actually come from the mutant bear that killed Cassie, which took on her voice. The bear kills Anya before Josie frees herself and shoots it dead.
Ventress leaves, desperate to reach the lighthouse. Josie believes Cassie’s dying mind was “refracted” into the bear, and allows herself to "refract" into a human-shaped plant to avoid a similar fate.
Lena reaches the lighthouse. Inside, she finds an incinerated corpse, a video-camera, and a hole in the ground. The camera footage shows Kane urging the cameraman to find Lena before committing suicide with a grenade. When the cameraman steps into frame, he is inexplicably Kane’s doppelgänger.
Lena descends into the hole and finds Ventress. Ventress says something is inside her, but she cannot tell what it is or whether it wants anything. Ventress then disintegrates into a shimmering cloud that absorbs a drop of blood from Lena's face and changes into a humanoid being. Lena attacks it and leaves the hole, but the figure teleports outside. It switches between copying Lena’s movements and attacking her. Just as the humanoid shapeshifts into Lena, Lena tricks it into igniting one of Kane's leftover grenades. Burning, the being sets the lighthouse ablaze as Lena flees. The Shimmer dissipates.
Lena surmises that the Shimmer was not intentionally destroying Earth, but merely doing what it does naturally. She is told that Kane recovered rapidly when the Shimmer disappeared. Lena visits Kane, and asks if he is the "real" Kane; he replies, "I don't think so." He asks if she is Lena, but she does not answer. Kane's doppelgänger and Lena 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 Cass Sheppard
- Oscar Isaac as Kane
- Benedict Wong as Lomax, who debriefs Lena
- Sonoya Mizuno as the Humanoid and as Katie, one of Lena’s students
- David Gyasi as Daniel, Lena’s married co-worker and lover
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.
Some critics have noted correlations between the film and other science fiction works. Nerdist Industries' Kyle 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).
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.
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.
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.
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 production budget of $40–55 million. It has been branded one of the biggest 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 review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 89%, based on 271 reviews, and an average rating of 7.8/10. 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 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.
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