3 1/2 (out of 4)
After penning poignant efforts in 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go and directing one of the best science fiction films of the decade in 2015's Ex Machina, novelist, screenwriter and now writer-director Alex Garland has returned with an even more ambitious, disturbing and thought-provoking picture in the psychedelic, lovecraftian sci-fi thriller Annihilation.
Leading a cast of several strong female characters and Oscar Isaac, Natalie Portman does her best as cellular biologist Lena, the only one of five women to survive an expedition into the Shimmer (including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny), an ever expanding area as the result of a mysterious meteor crash, from which nothing returns yet will engulf the earth if nothing is done.
The framing device, in which the story is recollected through Lena's questioning after the fact, lends a Willy Wonka-like plot progression as each of the five main characters is picked off one by one. This leaves Annihilation with a dark yet deflated structure, an otherwise great film’s only true flaw, apart from moment or two of uninspired dialogue.
The screenplay's delicately layered themes touch on duality, cancer and the unknown, and the intelligent scripting usually forgives any flat acting or excessive exposition. The digital photography is also sublimely sickly to behold, especially in its wordless, visually ambitious and subconsciously surreal climax. The final act of Annihilation is a beautiful payoff to superb mounted anticipation as the film officially enters a constant state of mind-bending strangeness and shocks as the movie barrels toward its conclusion.
Fearlessly weird and fiercely creative, Annihilation is confident and original enough to remain on the lips of critics until the end of 2018 even if doesn't presently connect with audiences.
To keep it brief...