Annihilation is being tipped as the best sci-fi film in years

Natalie Portman in Annihilation

Once inside the glimmering sphere that blankets a small piece of land in Florida, they reflect on the circumstances that led them each to accept the risky mission and confront the physical horrors that stalk them through the freakish, mutated landscapes.

"Annihilation" becomes ever more trippy and challenging - and thus ever more interesting. To start with, there's the inherent difficulty in an adaptation of the other-worldly source material. Netflix may have purchased global rights to ANNIHILATION, the new film from writer-director Alex Garland, but it is still getting a theatrical release here in the US, and if you're even remotely interested in smart, challenging, adult science-fiction, then get yourself to the biggest, nicest, loudest theater you can and enjoy it as this filmmaker kicks your face in. In the book, she does so by reading a stack of journals she finds in the lighthouse. In fact, this is probably slightly better than Marvel's latest too.

This review contains minor spoilers about the premise of "Annihilation" (2018).

So, in spite of all those challenges, does the film deliver? (Though the film barely has a political bone in its body, it's hard not to think of the world today all the same.) Led by a pithy psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Lena joins three other devil-may-care specialists (Jane the Virgin's Gina Rodriguez, A War's Tuva Novotny and soon-to-be superstar Tessa Thompson).

The unexpected answer to that is nothing you could either know or guess even if you've seen hundreds off science-fiction films, because it's something you've never heard of before: The Shimmer, to be precise.

Alex Garland is the real deal when it comes to heady, complicated cinematic science fiction. It's easy to compare it to films like Solaris and The Fountain.

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The basic premise of Annihilation is a simple one: Something has touched down on the West coast of the US, creating an environmental disaster zone referred to as The Shimmer. The novel takes a fairly unique approach in designating each team member by her role: no one has a name, only a function within the team, like "biologist". He created that thing like, 'Go to Thailand!' That was amusing and interesting, and then I realized all of the films that Alex has written over time, and so realized that I was far more familiar with his work than I originally thought. The film is a long flashback in which we learn that Portman's character, Lena, is an Army veteran, now a biology professor at Johns Hopkins University. "I knew that it was planned as a trilogy by the author, but there was only the manuscript for the first book". The lines between living things are being blurred to the point that our characters are becoming the environment around them, and vice versa. It was a very theatrical performance that somehow registered as insincere.

But Portman remains the chief among relative equals, both because she's the star and because her character has the connection to the only known survivor of the Shimmer to date.

Annihilation is out this Friday (February 23). While those around me were mostly engaged, the film's somewhat uneven pacing and more unusual visuals provoked a lot of mid-movie discussion among viewers around me.

"I think that, broadly speaking, there is a contempt shown for audiences that makes no sense at all".

You may notice that the creatures in the Shimmer are very unusual - if they stop killing you long enough for you to get a good look. And in Annihilation, we finally come face to face with something that connects to that larger Universe, something that proves that there is more than we have seen so far, and we look directly into that face, and when it looks back, it looks right through us because of how little we matter.

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