Lethargically Stunning

When I first saw the trailer for Annihilation (2018) in December of last year, I was captivated and thought: “I need to see that movie.”

Yet, after watching Annihilation, I realized it’s in a separate universe from Alex Garland’s directorial debut thriller Ex Machina (2014). If Garland’s goal with Annihilation was to create a visually stunning film with an ambiguous plot and no evolution, he succeeded.

Lena, a veteran/biologist played by Natalie Portman, volunteers to go inside The Shimmer with an all-female military/scientist team (played by Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh) after her husband miraculously returns – on his deathbed – from a similar expedition. The Shimmer is an iridescent, dome-like force field that resulted from a meteor strike. It is a prism, as Thompson’s character Josie Radek points out, reflecting light along with DNA. Within The Shimmer, utter chaos ensues: equipment malfunctions; plants and animals are mutated; there is amnesia and madness.

The conglomeration of grotesque and mesmerizing images that The Shimmer creates are the true highlights of the film: saturated flowers of every hue, a terrifying bear-like creature that swallows the screams of its kills, and crystal trees with branches emerging from human skin. Besides that, Garland sets up compelling questions regarding the idealistic values and fallibility of humanity through the contrast of Earth and The Shimmer, but fails to answer those questions in a satisfactory way. Because Lena, the only true survivor of The Shimmer, has a lackadaisical explanation to what The Shimmer is, I simply stopped caring.

My take away from the plot was that The Shimmer was some sort of alien life form tampering with Earth for a completely obscure reason. Whether it was creation, as Lena suggested, or destruction, as Leigh’s Dr. Ventress believed, neither point of view was given heavy believability. It felt as though Garland was leaving me to do the heavy lifting, to discover the ultimate meaning for The Shimmer – a task I found impossible with the loose ends that were given to me.

Simply put, I did not find this film intriguing.

While researching the film, I came across hundreds of fan theories exploring the reason for The Shimmer and attempting to clarify cloudy plot points. So evidently some found it interesting enough to pursue. Amidst the speculations and connections to similar films, I realized I am very much an outsider to the world of sci-fi/alien/thrillers. However, I don’t think that gives my dislike any less validity, nor do I think I am below a complex analysis of the genre. I just believe that there are miles between a beautiful film and a great one, and films need a stunning story line and responsive emotions in addition to breathtaking visuals in order to hit that mark.

I walked out of the theater confused and apathetic. It was the first time I left a movie craving some sort of realization or epiphany stemming from the film, while at the same time experiencing an overwhelming sense of lethargy. – Isabelle Hahn


Isabelle Hahn studies Journalism and English at Northeastern University. She is from Dallas, Texas, and loves to write about art in all capacities. Her work has been featured in The Avenue Magazine, Artistry Magazine, The Huntington News, and she has worked as a freelance reporter in Greece for class credit.

Directed by Alex Garland
Written by Alex Garland, based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer
Runtime: 120 Min.
Rating: R