Robert Moyes lends his movie going eye to this month’s Monday Magazine review. File photo

REVIEW: Annihilation takes audiences into strange realms

Natalie Portman leads a mostly female cast in this sci-fi thriller

ANNIHILATION

Alex Garland made a stunning directorial debut in 2015 with the innovative sci-fi psycho-thriller Ex Machina.

He’s back with the chillingly titled Annihilation, which proves to be a deep dive into a very different sci-fi realm. It opens with Lena (a haggard Natalie Portman) being interrogated by a man in a biohazard suit. We soon learn that Lena is a biologist sequestered in Area X, a top-secret government zone created in response to a menacing and inexplicable extra-terrestrial “event.” Somewhere in a remote national park there is an expanding circle of contamination defined by a pulsing, iridescent wall of energy known as the Shimmer.

Several military parties have pushed through the Shimmer on recon missions; but only one, very damaged soldier has ever returned. There has been speculation about whether external forces killed them or they went mad and slaughtered each other.

It then transpires that Lena is the only surviving member of a five-woman team of scientists who also broached the Shimmer, in hopes that a search for knowledge would be more helpful than soldiers stalking a supposed enemy.

The film is shown mostly in flashbacks, revealing provocative and sometimes horrifying details of what happened to the female scientists. We also get details of Lena’s back-story (including the fact that the surviving soldier was her long-thought-to-be-dead husband).

The tone of the expedition footage toggles between an almost plodding realism and a slowly intensifying strangeness: from beautiful but mutant plants that defy all the rules of genetics to a terrifying attack by a freakishly over-sized alligator, we are pulled ever deeper into a disquieting mystery.

By the time the women discover a grove of shrubs that resemble human topiary, they seem captive to a mind-bending world that is part magic, part menace. But is it real, or a mass hallucination? And then, towards the end, Annihilation gets deeply and gloriously weird as it takes the audience on a trip that raises questions it never answers.

Although this isn’t exactly a feminist take on sci-fi, the female-centric cast creates a fresh dynamic. And even the standard tropes of paranoia about government, contact with alien life, and the limits of human intelligence manage to resonate. This may not appeal to classic “space opera” fans, but Annihilation is a brainy piece of genre filmmaking that is grounded in questions about what it means to be human.

Rating: ****

Stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac

Directed by Alex Garland

COMING SOON:

Red Sparrow

Jennifer Lawrence stars as a Russian intelligence agent who is compelled to become a trained seductress and assassin in order to save her mother. With Jeremy Irons. This looks good!

Just Posted

FILM REVIEW: Wild creatures help tame prisoners

Robert Moyes offers up his take on The Mustang, screening at local theatres now

B.C., local shorts making waves at Pacific Rim Film Festival

CineVic’s seventh annual Short Circuit festival spotlighting films made close to home

Mathieu Poirier: Beers beat wines for pairing with food

Complexities, ingredients and styles offer more diverse choices, writes Monday beer columnist

Musical joy emerges from fiddling and singing

Joy of Life Festival at Alix Goolden Hall on May 3 and 4 offers both for audiences

Fearing is loving life in West Coast La La Land

Award-winning blues-folk guitarist singer/songwriter playing Sidney show on May 3

REVIEW: Once ‘The Foreigner’ arrives, everything changes

Funny and touching, Chemainus Theatre’s new play will leave you in stitches

Making meditative music for mental health

Calgary duo to perform in James Bay as part of Home Shall be Here tour

Peninsula Players unravel mystery for coming production

Murder on the Nile hits the Mary Winspear Centre stage in May

Just looking, or buying? You can find that perfect art piece at Sidney show

Saanich Peninsula Arts and Crafts Society holding Spring Show April 27-28 at Mary Winspear Centre

Peninsula grandmothers salute Roaring ’20s fashion

May 3 event in Sidney benefits Grandmothers Helping African Grandmothers

Most Read