There’s a sense of unease all throughout Annihilation, the latest film from Ex Machina director Alex Garland. The strange color palette, booming techno-esque score,and oddly detached performances from the actors add up to a film that is immensely strange, beautiful, and utterly alienating.
Few films have really nailed down what made Lovecraft’s monsters so powerful; not just that they were skyscraper sized, tentacled freaks, but that they were completely and utterly inhuman, unimaginable, beyond comprehension. Now since Annihilation is a film, and those generally have to be viewed with your eyes, the spectacle is made a little more sensible. But just a little. Almost every aspect of Garland’s masterpiece remains amazingly alien.
The monsters and menaces of Annihilation are a result of a following star, smashing into the Florida Everglades, and infecting the land with an odd rainbow glow. Recalling Lovecraft’s seminal tale, The Colour Out Of Space, The Shimmer, as this forsaken land is coined, warps everything in it’s path, with results both grotesque and glamorous. Crocodiles with shark teeth and bears capable of mimicking human speech roam swamps filled with moss colored every hue of the rainbow, and seemingly endless rows of vibrant vegetation, flowers growing in odd shapes from uneven surfaces.
As The Shimmer expands, swallowing whole everything in its path, The Government starts to get worried. Eventually they start sending in teams of soldiers, drones, and animals to see what lays beyond. Nothing ever comes back out. The one man who finally does make it out, Sergeant Kane, finds himself incapable of describing what he saw, before falling into a coma from massive organ failure.
His wife Lena, a biologist and former military, volunteers to enter into The Shimmer with a team of fellow scientists, in hopes of discovering what it is that became of her husband. As one might imagine, things quickly take a turn for the worse.
It wouldn’t be inaccurate to call Annihilation a slow burn, but it’s one that keeps your eyes on the wick the entire time. The expeditions goal in entering The Shimmer is to find the lighthouse located smack-dab in the center of it, where the meteorite initially hit. While the outskirts of The Shimmer show limited signs of mutation, the deeper in one goes the more pronounced changes get. The lighthouse itself is the stuff of nightmares, the kind that wake you up screaming.
This gradual progression is rather gradual, and certain frights aren’t as strong as others. A ginormous croc with shark teeth is scary, but in a much more conventional way than the deeply philosophical and disturbing ideas that run through Annihilation’s core. The expedition is not immune to The Shimmer’s mutagenic effects, finding as they go further in their bodies and minds twisting and breaking under its immense power.
The ending is deeply unsettling, and truly terrifying in the most raw and unknown of ways. The entity that powers The Shimmer, that crash-landed onto Earth from God knows where, is an alien in every sense of the word, a being unlike anything the planet has seen before. To dive to deep would be to spoil one of the films most truly distressing scenes, and one of the best adaptations of Lovecraftian ideas ever put to screen.
Annihilation is one hell of a movie, terrifying, mesmerizing, and completely fascinating. Here’s one worth making it out to the theater for.