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. The film stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac, and follows a group of military scientists who enter "The Shimmer", a mysterious quarantined zone full of mutating landscapes and creatures.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alex Garland|
|Screenplay by||Alex Garland|
by Jeff VanderMeer
|Edited by||Barney Pilling|
|Box office||$27.9 million|
The film was released in North America by Paramount Pictures on February 23, 2018, and in other markets on March 12, 2018 by Netflix. It received praise for its visuals, performances, direction, and thought-provoking story.
At the U.S. government's Area X facility on a Southern coast, cellular biology professor and former U.S. Army soldier Lena undergoes quarantined debriefing about an expedition into an anomaly called "the shimmer", from which she and her husband are the only survivors.
In a flashback, Lena's husband, an Army Special Forces soldier named Kane, returns without warning to 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 Lena and Kane on the way to a hospital and brings them to Area X, near where a shimmering electromagnetic field began to spread three years earlier. Psychologist Dr. Ventress recruits Lena into the project, explaining that military teams, including one with Kane, ventured into the shimmer to reach a lighthouse, where the shimmer first appeared. No one except Kane, now in a coma, ever returned. Lena joins Ventress on a research expedition consisting of them, physicist Josie Radeck, anthropologist Cass Sheppard, and paramedic Anya Thorensen.
Guidance technology fails, the team forgets extensive periods of time, and a mutated alligator attacks Josie. The team rescues her, and learn that the alligator shows signs of somehow being hybridized with a shark. At an abandoned military base, the team discovers evidence of Kane's expedition. Video on a memory card shows Kane cutting open a living expedition member to reveal that his intestines are moving. That night, the base's perimeter fence is torn open as Ventress and Lena stand guard. A mutated creature drags Cass away and kills her.
As the team continues toward the lighthouse at the center of the shimmer, they find a town filled with human-shaped plants. Josie hypothesizes that the shimmer is acting on organisms the way a prism distorts and refracts light. The team members realize they are rapidly changing as well. That night, a paranoid Anya attacks and restrains Lena, Josie, and Ventress. She has discovered that Kane was Lena's husband, and accuses the group of killing Cass. Anya hears Cass scream again outside, and investigates. The creature that killed Cass enters the house, showing signs it has incorporated the ability to mimic Cass' final screams. It kills Anya and attacks Lena before Josie shoots and kills the creature.
The team discusses turning back. Ventress, who reveals she is dying of cancer and has nothing to lose, leaves Lena and Josie to venture to the lighthouse alone. Josie appears to mutate into a human-shaped plant. Lena reaches the lighthouse and enters to find an incinerated corpse, a video camera, and a hole in the floor. The footage in the camera shows Kane ranting about the shimmer's effects on him, urging someone offscreen to find Lena, and finally committing suicide with a white phosphorus grenade. A doppelgänger of Kane then steps onscreen.
Lena descends into the hole and finds Ventress, who tells her the forces at work are extraterrestrial and will spread to encompass the entire world. Ventress disintegrates into a glowing nebulous structure that absorbs a drop of blood from a cut on Lena's face and creates a humanoid entity that mimics Lena's every motion and eventually transforms into an identical copy of her. Lena exploits its mimicking behavior to set an active phosphorus grenade in its hands before fleeing. The creature is set ablaze by the grenade. Flames fully engulf the lighthouse, and the various constructs in the area collapse and the shimmer fades away.
Lena's debriefing concludes. She reunites with "Kane", who has recovered rapidly with the disappearance of the shimmer. She asks him whether he is the real Kane, to which he replies, "I don't think so." He then asks her if she is the real Lena, to which she does not respond. The two embrace as their irises shimmer and shift in color.
- Natalie Portman as Lena, a biologist and former soldier
- Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Ventress, a psychologist and the leader of the expedition
- Gina Rodriguez as Anya Thorensen, a paramedic
- Tessa Thompson as Josie Radek, a physicist
- Tuva Novotny as Cass Sheppard, a surveyor and geologist
- Oscar Isaac as Kane, Lena's husband and a soldier in a previous expedition
- Benedict Wong as Lomax, a scientist studying the shimmer who interviews Lena
- Sonoya Mizuno as Katie, a student of Lena’s
- Mizuno also portrays a Humanoid
- David Gyasi as Daniel, Lena's colleague and former lover
In March 2013, it was announced that Paramount Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions 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.
Prior to its release, the film drew some criticism for the casting of Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh as characters who are, in the books, described as Asian and half-Native American. Garland explained that none of the five female characters' ethnicity is revealed in the first book, which was the only one of the trilogy he had read, and that the script was actually complete before the second book was published. He cast the characters based on his reaction only to the actors he met in the casting process, or actors he had worked with before. Because he wanted to take the story in his own direction, he did not read the other two books while making the film in order not to be influenced by them.
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. Lighthouse Pictures have a charge arrangement registered with UK Companies House regarding this matter. 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 film was released by Paramount Pictures in the United States on February 23, 2018.
Due to a poorly received test screening, David Ellison, a financier 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 Garland in his desire to not alter the film, defending the film and refusing to take notes. Rudin had final cut.
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 with Netflix handling international distribution. According to this deal, Paramount will handle the US and China release, while Netflix will begin streaming the film in other territories 17 days later.
A week later, Garland expressed disappointment with the Netflix release, stating:
"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 [medium] 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."
In the United States and Canada, 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.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 87% based on 200 reviews, and an average rating of 7.6/10. 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 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 a 71% overall positive score.
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a full 4 out of 4 stars, praising the film 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." Nerdist Industries' Kyle Anderson called Annihilation "a movie that deserves several viewings, and your brain’s whole attention." Anderson also opined that the film has little to do with the novel that it was based on, yet is similar to H. P. Lovecraft's 1927 short story "The Colour Out of Space", a story about a meteor that lands in a swamp and unleashes a plague. Chris McCoy of the Memphis Flyer found the film reminiscent of "The Colour Out of Space" as well as the novel Roadside Picnic (1971) and its film adaptation Stalker (1979).
On a more critical note, 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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