Feb 4, 2019
If you had asked me whether this podcast would go 400 episodes of daily movie reviews, the answer would have largely depended on my mood at the time. At the beginning, I would have been positive. About halfway through last year, I would have struggled a bit. After the wildfire, well, it was touch and go. But now, with year two in full effect, and with a team of reviewers on board, I feel like another 400 episodes are not out of the question. Maybe even likely.
If you want to help our podcast grow, head over to patreon.com/onemoviepunch, where you can sponsor the podcast at any level. We’re still developing a more formal campaign, but any sponsorship level will make you eligible for Sponsor Sundays, when you can force me to review any movie, with a few exceptions, or to get on board One Movie Punch as a contributor on Takeover Tuesdays. And if you can’t give cash, then just give a little time and drop us a review in your podcatcher of choice. Keep sharing those episodes, and keep those downloads going!
Two recommendations for today before we get started. First, for a film in the same vein as today’s film, check out our review for “The Endless” (Episode #273), along with the film duo’s other output. Second, for a documentary that features a few clips of Jeff VanderMeer, who wrote the novel for today’s film, check out our review for “Vintage Tomorrows” (Episode #319), which is all about steampunk subculture. Both are great viewing.
Today’s movie is “Annihilation” (2018), the Lovecraftian horror film written and directed by Alex Garland, based on the novel trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. The film follows Lena (Natalie Portman), a cellular biologist whose spouse, Kane (Oscar Isaac), has returned from a secret military mission from a mysterious phenomenon known as The Shimmer. Seeking answers to his deteriorating health, she teams up with a group of all female scientists and soldiers to venture into The Shimmer, finding much more than she bargained for.
Alex Garland has a knack for writing, which is how I came to know his work. “The Beach” (2000), starring Leonardo DiCaprio was based on his novel, and was the first in a string of collaborations with Danny Boyle, including “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine”. His reboot script for “Dredd” rescued the franchise after the less than stellar Stallone version. And now he’s written and directed not one, but two critically acclaimed movies, “Ex Machina” and today’s film. He’s one of my favorite folks working in Hollywood right now, and if anyone can make something for the screen out of the “Halo” franchise, Garland is the right person.
“Annihilation”, appropriately enough for a novelist, is based on the Southern Reach trilogy by James VanderMeer, a modern take on an old Lovecraftian story, “The Colour Out of Space”. In short, a mysterious impact from space is transforming the countryside, bringing terrors and powers beyond our imagination, and affecting everyone it comes into contact with. While the premise may have been done before, however, the beauty of science fiction is that we can reexamine these premises in the light of more information about science, much like the scientific method when it comes to actual sciences. And between VanderMeer’s reimagining, and Garland’s translation to the screen, we get a great film about the same topics.
What distinguishes “Annihilation” from so many other films in the same vein it its all-female team that heads into The Shimmer, lead by a strong performance by Natalie Portman, whose life we see unfold via short flashbacks, much like the way light and life are reexamined and reconfigured in the Shimmer. Lena starts out simple enough, as a character, but becomes infinitely more complex as she progresses towards the source of the phenomenon, again, much like how life on the planet started simply, then evolved into quite complex and diverse forms. She’s also joined by Jennifer Jason Leigh as the mysterious Dr. Ventress, inexplicably drawn to the answers in The Shimmer, along with characters played by Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, and Tessa Thompson, whose career seems to be picking all winners lately, no matter the role. There’s even a great role for one of my favorite actors nowadays, Benedict Wong. A stellar cast that melds the themes with the characters effortlessly, making for a smooth ride into a very bizarre world.
I’m obviously a huge fan of the themes in this film, but I would be remiss to not mention the incredible visual effects, everything from The Shimmer to the bizarre flora and fauna that populate The Shimmer. Mutation doesn’t even begin to describe the amazing work with practical and special effects, along with another incredible score from Geoff Barrow (of Portishead fame, among other projects) and Ben Salisbury. Their work for “Annihilation” is their fourth collaboration, and I sincerely hope they never stop working together. The music adds just the right ambience when needed, and helps drive the tension within conflicts otherwise. I would argue the visual effects and the score help elevate what would be a standard science fiction thinker into something much, much more. I only wish there was a way to capture the same feeling with the other work within the Southern Reach trilogy, although the focus is much, much different.
“Annihilation” is another Lovecraftian film, melding science fiction, horror, and humanity into a bizarre world created by The Shimmer. While the cast is solid, the real strength lies in the themes as expressed by incredible practical and special effects, and a driving score. Fans of Lovecraftian horror, or science fiction, or folks who just want to watch two hours of mind-blowing visuals, should definitely check out this film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 9.2/10
“Annihilation” (2018) is rated Rand is currently playing on Amazon Prime and Hulu.