Annihilation is a 2018 psychedelic 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 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 the 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 Empire Magazine, the film addresses "depression, grief and the human propensity for self-destruction".
Cellular biology professor and former U.S. Army soldier Lena (Portman) is under interrogation. Previously 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 Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (called Blackwater National Park in the film) in Maryland, and is gradually expanding and increasing its boundaries. Many exploratory expeditions were organized, but only Lena's husband Kane (Isaac) 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 (Leigh) prepares a new scientific expedition into the Shimmer, with Lena joining her. Three other women participate in the expedition: physicist Josie Radek (Thompson), geomorphologist Cassie “Cass” Sheppard (Novotny) and paramedic Anya Thorensen (Rodriguez).
The group enters the Shimmer. 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 many rows of shark-like teeth. At an abandoned military base, the group finds a video message from Kane's previous expedition. The video shows Kane using a knife to cut open the abdomen of another soldier, Mayer (Hayman), to reveal his slithering intestines. The group finds Mayer’s corpse, which has turned into an overgrown colony of lichens. At night, the base is attacked by a mutant bear that drags Cass away, and Lena later finds her mutilated body. Within an abandoned village, Josie studies plants that have taken on a human-like form, and theorizes that the Shimmer functions as a prism for DNA, distorting and transforming everything that falls within its boundaries, including the expedition members' own bodies. Anya, overcome with paranoia after watching her fingerprints change, disarms the other members and ties them to chairs, and accuses Lena of murdering Cass. The bear returns and lures Anya away by emitting a cry for help in Cass’ voice. The bear kills Anya, while Josie manages to free herself and shoots the bear.
Ventress leaves the group and heads for the lighthouse, the center of the Shimmer. Josie believes Cass’ dying mind was "refracted" into the bear, and allows herself to "refract" into a human-shaped 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 commits suicide with an incendiary grenade, but after the explosion, a doppelgänger of Kane steps into frame. Within the hole created by the meteor, Lena finds Ventress, who says something is inside her, but she cannot tell what it is or whether it wants anything. Ventress then disintegrates into a shimmering cloud alien that absorbs a drop of blood from Lena's face and changes into a faceless 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. The being sets the lighthouse ablaze as Lena flees, and the Shimmer dissipates. Lena visits the Kane doppelgänger, and asks if he is the "real" Kane; he replies, "I don't think so." He asks if she is Lena, and she gasps, 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 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 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.
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. Because it only was released in three countries, 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 review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 88%, based on 289 reviews, and an average rating of 7.74/10. 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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In this [adaptation] instance it was like an adaptation of the atmosphere.
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