Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018) release 13Feb18

Natalie Portman, Jennifer Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson

A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don't apply.

Like Arrival a couple of years ago, and Inception in 2010, this is a concept film—as announced by the single-word abstract-noun title. I'll leave it to other writers to almost give away the big spoiler, and instead comment on only one striking shot: in which we see across the screen five women scientists coming forward each holding ... an assault rifle. As critics haven't made a point of mentioning this, I take it that feminism has advanced at least this far: that women are also tacitly permitted to go somewhere and shoot the place up.

... We see, in flashbacks both charming and piercing, the backstory of the biologist (played by Natalie Portman). We see the team of scientists, all women (among them Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, and Tessa Thompson), winningly bond before their mission. We see CGI beasts and get treated to/assaulted by a couple of jump scares. We behold two strong instances of found-footage horror on equipment left by the previous expeditions into Area X. We watch the cast members pick their way through nature gone wrong, through woods and seas kabooming with a biodiversity so flamboyant you might wish you were given more time to gape at it — to soak in it. Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice.

... Mr. Garland likes to play with tones, mixing deadpan in with the frights, and later Annihilation becomes something of a head movie, swirling with cosmic and menacingly lysergic visions. He keeps the tension torqued throughout this phantasmagoric interlude, sustaining the shivery unease that is one of this movie’s deeper satisfactions. Something is troubling Lena, whose personal life comes into focus over a series of flashbacks that are entirely too banal. Ms. Portman does her part with presence and persuasive stern looks, yet there’s something missing from Mr. Garland’s conception of Lena, whose mythic story bristles with dread but lacks the soul that might make you care. Manohla Dargis, NYT.

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 24 July, 2018 | Now: 9 August, 2018