Much like film adaptation of Garland’s first novel, The Beach, by Danny Boyle & John Hodge, ANNIHILATION takes the basic premise from Jeff Vandermeer’s novel of the same name and spins a deeper, sturdier and altogether more impressive story using the threads of Vandermeer’s source as a springboard.
Set in the not-too-distant future it has Natalie Portman as Lena, a biology professor who, one year previous, lost her soldier husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac) and has been intensely mourning his death since. Mourning, that is, until he returns home with no recollection of where he has been nor what he has done since his disappearance. No sooner has Kane shown his face, he falls into a coma with no signs of waking up.
With a little investigation Lena discovers he was working on a research project in an ever-growing region of the Florida swaps known as Area-X, and Kane was the only person to have made it out alive. To better understand how to save her husband she volunteers to be a member of the next party to enter Area-X. From here the film takes a dark(er) turn and lays the foundation of a tightly wound sojourn into horror and the macabre without ever becoming explicit in either.
Falling into the same intelligent-sci fi category as Arrival and Solaris, ANNIHILATION is a film chock-full of big ideas. It’s a lofty story about grief, loss and science but it’s mostly about destruction; destruction of the self and ideals.
Portman, as one member of the 5-person all-woman research team, does intense, frightened fascination well but she is only one fifth of the powerhouse performances. Tessa Thompson and Jennifer Jason Leigh are both exemplary as the focussed psychologist and self-harming physicist respectively.
Garland slowly ratchets up the tension and gore until the final act where his mystery rounds out to perfect satisfaction and leaves us with the firm understanding that while his debut, EX-MACHINA was fantastic, ANNIHILATION is close to genius and cements him as one of the best, most exciting directors working in main-stream Hollywood today.