Annihilation's Biggest Scare Was Just As Terrifying Behind The Scenes

In the years since its release, "Annihilation" remains a transcendent and haunting visual experience. Director Alex Garland ("Ex Machina") adapts Jeff VanderMeer's 2014 novel of the same name by deftly drawing upon the questions, awes, and fears of people, places and things that cannot be categorized. There's an anxiousness that comes with searching for answers in an unexplainable habitat. It's the kind of existential cosmic horror that allows you to marvel at all of the grotesque beauty of an enigmatic alien environment called the Shimmer, a place in which colors breathe and evolution never ceases. Even with all of the beauty that lies within, the Shimmer is home to a world of mutated monsters that could leap from the shadows at any point. According to the film's lead, Natalie Portman, the cast were startled on set by the most terrifying creature of them all.

Around the film's theatrical release, Portman told Collider how it felt to be surprised by that monster:

"There was a scene where — I mean, we know of course that in the scene this creature comes out and starts attacking us, but I don't think we were aware that there was gonna be, you know, sometimes these things are CG later. We hadn't seen the practical thing yet, and then all of a sudden, in the middle of the scene, it really jumped out at us. And I'm not even sure they were able to use it, because I think we were all like, 'Ah!' Not necessarily the kind of tough soldier reaction we were to have, yeah. But that's fantastic, I like that he was at least willing to play that trick. It's always fun as long as nobody you know has a heart attack."

Portman keeps details vague on which creature, considering "Annihilation" was a new release around the time of this interview. Those that have seen the film, however, know exactly which creature she's referring to.


That's right! We're talking about that terrifying mutant bear/human hybrid, whose very existence is hard to shake. It's no wonder everyone was so frightened when they got to see this practical portion of this thing up close and personal.

For context, Lena (Natalie Portman), Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Josie (Tess Thompson) wake up bound to chairs, while the team paramedic, Anya (Gina Rodriguez), looks upon the group, especially Lena, with mistrust. Right as she's about to presumably slice her open, they all hear a scream eerily reminiscent of their lost geomorphologist, Cass (Tuva Novotny). Anya's need to help her friend is followed by a piercing silence. The wails continue, but no one is able to turn around and see what's behind them. And then we see it. In walks a horrifically mutated bear — the very same one that attacked Cass in the shadows earlier in the film.

Prior to the team entering the mystifying bubble, the contents of what lives inside of the meteorite-struck habitat is vague and mysterious. Up until its reveal, Garland had done an immaculate job of having us experience the shifts within this evolving and unpredictable bio-dome. For all that is beautiful, there is an unexplainable ferociousness and self-destruction to the area's transformation. We see that the Shimmer synthesizes human bodies, animals and plants to create something new, and this hellish bear is one of those creations. What makes this creature truly unnerving is the implication of its existence.

When this furry nightmare steps into the dimly-lit room, each new angle reveals one horrifying detail after the other. It appears that when Cass was attacked, her mangled body merged with the bear, among other things, in the Shimmer. Similar to how Ridley Scott filmed the Xenomorph in 1979's "Alien," before that creature became so familiar and recognizable as to lose all visceral impact, we are not allowed to get a handle on what this thing is. Garland uses shadows and abstract angles to suggest more than he shows, letting our fevered imaginations, and the terrified reactions of the actors in the scene, fill in the blanks. 

The terror extends to the audio as well. Cass' painful cries for help are immortalized every time the bear-thing opens its mouth, the creature's howls having absorbed her final moments and made them part of its unknowable animal language. I'll never forget the first time I heard that cold-blooded wail emerge from it. Being face-to-face with a wild bear is already terrifying to think about, but the diseased flesh patches, human skull modification, and drooling blood put it over the edge as one of our great modern movie monsters.

"Annihilation" is currently streaming on Paramount+.