Lena (Natalie Portman) has spent over a year grieving thinking that her husband has died. Her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), was part of a covert Army team. He would leave on missions and not be able to send any word. But a year was too long. Then as she is painting the bedroom of her house Kane walks up the stairs and into the bedroom. She is overwhelmed by happiness. After the initial flutter of excitement wears off she has so many questions. His responses are short and are not making sense. All of the sudden he starts cough up blood. Lena and Kane are headed to the hospital in the ambulance when government vehicles. Lena is pulled out and drugged and quickly loses consciousness. When she awakes she finds herself in a cell being asked questions by a Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) about her husband and his sudden appearance. She quickly finds out that her husband and his team were one of several team over the past three years that were sent into a place called The Shimmer. The Shimmer was a growing circle surrounding a light house. Nothing that had gone into this area had returned…until Kane. With Kane on the brink of death Lena is determined to find out what is happening inside. She spent over seven years and in the Army and now was a Biology Professor at Johns Hopkins. This made her uniquely qualified to join Dr. Ventress and her team in the latest expedition into The Shimmer.

The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. It was written for the screen by Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Sunshine), who also directed (also Ex Machina). This film visually very interesting. When they enter The Shimmer you are immediately aware that you are still on Earth but something is definitely different. At times it is gritty and others bright and stunning. The cinematography as a whole make this film worth catching in the theater. The story is definitely original. I thought that the performances were good but at times a little cheesy for how serious of a tone was being set. I thought Natalie Portman had a strong performance. Supporting actors Gina Rodriguez (as Anya Thorensen), Tuva Novotny (as Cass Sheppard) and Tessa Thompson (as Josie Radek) all brought interesting character to life. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance felt out of place to me and didn’t gel with the story. I enjoyed the story overall and how the tension built throughout but in the end I was disappointed. The suspense, in my opinion, wound up concluding in an unoriginal way. That is all that I will say to avoid spoilers.

Overall I think this film definitely makes you think about the story after you watch it. I think it is worth watching and coming to your own conclusion. For me it really fell short at the end but up until that point I was definitely interested in where the story was taking me.

3 out of 5


Second Review by

Michael Newman


Annihilation is the latest movie from Ex Machina Writer-Director Alex Garland. In this science fiction/ horror mashup a meteor strikes earth near an old lighthouse and a strange aura known only as “The Shimmer” emanates from the area of impact quickly spreading to the surrounding countryside.

Lena (Natalie Portman), is a biologist and army veteran grappling with the loss of her husband who had gone MIA on a mission nearly 12 months ago. Seemingly out of nowhere her lost husband reappears, visibly lost and confused, and Lena’s questions about his absence for the entirety of his time away go completely unanswered. Later that same evening her husband suffers a medical emergency and is rushed to the hospital. This thrusts Lena into the forefront of her husband’s previous mission, the investigation of “The Shimmer” and what lies beyond the glowing wall. Fearful of her husband’s declining health, she quickly decides that entering “The Shimmer”, may be the only way to save his life.

Lena, along with fellow “damaged” female scientists make their way into “The Shimmer” with the hopes of identifying the cause, and more importantly how to stop it from spreading further. Each member of the team has their own reasons for venturing on what would appear to be a fool’s errand as no one, except Lena’s husband, has ever come back from “The Shimmer”.

It’s difficult to discuss much of what goes on in “The Shimmer” and avoid spoilers at the same time. Much of the draw to the story (and the reason why I avoided all coverage of it prior to attending) is the mystery of what lies beyond. Much like Stephen King’s short story “The Mist”, the real meat to the movie is the experiences encountered by the team as they make their way to the lighthouse. This is also where much of Annihilation truly shines. The visuals, both in plants and animals, are breathtaking and at times terrifying. Inside “The Shimmer” certainly evokes a strong “we’re not in Kansas anymore” vibe. Unfortunately, there is no Toto along for the ride in this adventure.

The movie moves along at a pretty even pace, breaking up the tension of exploring “The Shimmer”, with flashbacks that answer some of the questions around Lena’s motivation. As stated, each of the lead female characters are damaged in one way or another, with Lena’s “damage” revealed as her journey continues. The even pace holds true up until the last twenty minutes or so, which went on entirely too long and risked completely ruining, in my opinion, what would have been an otherwise good film.

Annihilation is a movie that really struggles to identify what it wants to be. There are plenty of tense moments that show how incredible it could be as a horror movie, only to be bogged down in some scenes that left me scratching my head. The wonderment of what lies inside “The Shimmer” was broken by some unnecessary scientific/artsy moments that detract from the plot as a whole. Once again, the scene in the last 20 minutes breaks the overall immersion and had me longing for it to be over. If I had stepped away prior to that scene and come back for the last few minutes I think my overall impression of the movie would have been far better. While you certainly should judge the movie as a whole versus the individual parts, it’s hard not to have that sour the overall experience. Annihilation isn’t a terrible movie, it’s simply the case that it could have been so much more. When it goes off the rails, it plummets to the canyon below, which in general makes it difficult to recover from. In the end, it leaves me with another case of “what could have been”.

2.5 out of 5 stars