Review – ‘Annihilation’ by Alex Garland

annihilationI’ve been looking forward to Alex Garland’s ‘Annihilation’ for some time, and the film does not disappoint – though I can see how its broader commercial could be a concern.

I’ve personally been a fan of Garland’s work for some time – his novel ‘The Coma’ is one of my favourites, though it’s far less well-known than his breakthrough hit, ‘The Beach’. Since moving on from novels, and into screenwriting, Garland has penned the films ‘28 Days Later’, the under-rated sci-fi epic ‘Sunshine’ and the most recent movie adaptation of ‘Judge Dredd’.

But it was his last film, ‘Ex Machina’ which truly elevated Garland in the wider public consciousness. Garland also directed the AI-themed story, which is an impactful, slow burn of a film, and a resonant and disturbing experience.

That then leads to Annihilation. For this film, Garland was given final cut, based on the faith studio execs had in him follow Ex Machina. That, as it turns out, lead to some complications with the film’s release, as producers reportedly voiced concerns, and asked for changes to the cerebral plot after initial test screenings. Garland refused, which then lead to Annihilation being released via Netflix, as opposed to in cinemas, in most countries.

I, for one, can say I’m glad Garland stuck with his initial vision.

Annihilation is a challenging film, for sure, but all great creative works should be. Sure, there’s a place for quick-hitting comedies and fast-paced action movies, but great cinema, as with any art, raises questions and forces you to consider them in a wider context than what you’re seeing on screen. Annihilation achieves this, but it does so in a complex manner which may alienate some viewers. But if you’re willing to absorb those questions, and ponder the various elements at play, you’ll find a hugely rewarding, haunting work, full of great performances and amazing scenes.

Great science fiction doesn’t use its setting as the key story element, it uses the form to tell a human story. Consider, in this respect, ‘Arrival’, which uses the backdrop of an alien invasion to examine human nature and the essence of why we do what we do. Or consider something like ‘Under the Skin’ as another modern example, which also raises moral questions through a foreign observer. Annihilation is in the same vein as these films, drawing viewers into a compelling story, that’ll not only leave with something to think about, but will also likely teach you something you didn’t know, further sparking your response.

In some ways, it’s sad that we (in Australia) won’t get to see it on the big screen, as a lot of effort has clearly gone into the amazing set design and effects. Garland has noted that, while he’s fine with Netflix distribution, he likely would have made different choices if the focus had been on smaller screens. But regardless, the film looks amazing, and as noted, definitely raises deep, intelligent questions – and will haunt you, not only for the disconcerting roar of the creatures contained within ‘The Shimmer’, but also as you ponder its meaning in your own thought process.

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