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In Review: Annihilation

Director: Alex Garland

After his outstanding debut feature as a director (Ex Machina, 2014), Alex Garland’s latest project has been much anticipated by a section of film fans that sit excitedly in the centre of a Venn diagram labelled ‘horror’ on one side and ‘sci-fi’ on the other. His fresh commentary on the capabilities of AI had them rightly wondering where he would - or indeed could - go next. Would he be able to recreate such dark yet intellectual subject matter? Would he direct with the same bold, eccentric pizzazz?

On first viewing, the answer is yes. Garland’s straight-to-Netflix film, Annihilation, is a hypnotic, resplendent sci-fi that builds steadily with genuine intrigue. Garland has high expectations for his audience and it pays off; the engagement factor is heightened by his reluctance to give us blatantly, over-explained answers. Added to that, Natalie Portman seems completely at home in the role of a biologist who is sent, alongside a team of scientists with varying expertise, to examine a mysterious, expanding area with unknown origins. 

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer yet seems to have done that rarest of things: not only given a vivid visual life to the world created in the book but also embellish and enhance it. The presence of an unknown alien life form without clear intentions draws comparisons to Denis Villeneuve’s excellent Arrival. It also matches it when it comes to revealing the alien life form by never becoming silly or comical. On the contrary, when the film builds to its weird and wonderful climax, Garland’s fingerprints can be seen smeared all over it with his assured and distinctive visuals.

It’s a shame that UK viewers won’t be able to see this projected in cinemas, as much of the film is crying out for a big screen experience. After viewing, it feels almost like a happy surprise that Garland has repeated something that’s so enjoyable and worth engaging in. Perhaps, though, that’s underestimating his ability as a filmmaker and is now something we should expect. TS

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