the annihilation cast

Annihilation

The one thought that kept running through my head while watching Annihilation was, “How did this get made?” I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Rather, it’s shocking that Paramount went ahead and let Garland make this – a big, weird sci-fi flick with an Oscar winner at the lead, surrounded by an all-female cast.

The lackluster box office may indicate that’s not what audiences want (which is depressing), but at the very least, we should be happy this film was made at all. There were rumors before release of behind-the-scenes skirmishes, with Garland clashing with producers who thought the film was just too strange for general audiences. Perhaps those producers were right, but Garland thankfully won out and delivered the film he wanted.

It’s not without its issues. There’s a framing device, with Portman’s Lena recounting what happened in the Shimmer to a Southern Reach scientist played by Benedict Wong. While Garland apparently was able to maintain final cut on the film, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn this unnecessary framing device was something a producer insisted on to perhaps make the film more accessible. Instead, it hampers the narrative – we’re aware that everyone in the mission by Portman’s character is dead before the mission has even started.

This minor quibble aside, Annihilation has started the 2018 film season off on the right foot. I won’t be surprised if this ends up on my Best of the Year list come December. I can’t shake the haunting, nightmarish imagery here, created by Garland and cinematographer Rob Hardy. And I can’t shake the performances, either.

I’ve already mentioned Rodriguez’s exemplary work, but the truth is, everyone here is at the top of their game. Portman journeys through the film with eyes wide, running both hot and cold as she approaches the strange events before her. She’s one part soldier, able to unload an entire clip into a rampaging gator, and one part scientist, hypnotically transfixed but the ever-changing landscape. One of the film’s most telling scenes, however, comes just after Anya and Josie have died and Ventress has vanished: Portman’s Lena breaks down, overcome with all the senseless loss; all the unstoppable destruction. It’s heart-wrenching to watch.

Tessa Thompson, who has fast become the type of actress who delivers a phenomenal performance no matter what the role, isn’t featured nearly enough as she should be, but her moments are still remarkable. Her character is the most fragile of the bunch, and the way she goes from being fascinated to horrified is handled with a deft hand by the actress. And then there’s her death scene, performed with such agonizing grace.

Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Ventress is a deliberate enigma, but Leigh, always fantastic, makes the most of it. She moves through the film with a weary eye, making every. single. line. she delivers sound maddeningly deliberate and cautious.

As the first member of the team to meet her demise, Tuva Novotny exits the narrative quickest, but she, too, manages to have an impact on the film. A scene where she shares a heart-to-heart with Portman’s Lena about the team’s history could’ve easily derailed the film by seeming like needless exposition, but Novotny’s delicate delivery makes it all work.

Annihilation is the very definition of acquired taste. If someone declared that they unequivocally hated this film, I’d understand. It’s a strange, often impenetrable movie. More than that, though, it’s a film that ultimately declares that there will be no real escape from the things that haunt, and hunt, us. That in the end, we are doomed.

That’s not exactly the type of message that wins over general audiences.

Still, Annihilation is a remarkable achievement. It lingers, burned into your thoughts, branded on the brain. It is nothing short of a masterpiece, and the fact that it exists at all is something worth celebrating.

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer for /Film. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net