Ooo, Natalie Portman with an assault rifle. Has that ever happened in her career? The closest I can think of is her holding a blaster rifle in STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002). Hmm. Either way, I’m totally down for this. The woman’s certainly had a run of bad luck in films as of late, either the films being less than stellar, or not as widely known. I don’t want to make it sound like she’s box office poison or anything, but… yeah, when was the last truly great movie she was in? BLACK SWAN (2010) maybe? JACKIE (2016)! Never mind, JACKIE was her last great performance. But her great performances feel so far inbetween, don’t they? Well, hey, if this is another great movie with her, then you’ll hear no complaints from me.
The story looks like it’s about a woman’s military husband getting whisked away on a mission. Something happens to him and she’s called in to investigate the problem, involving what is referred to as a “shimmer.” Don’t know what it is, barely know what it does, but we get a brief glimpse of what’s on the other side. Creatures that have been changed completely, as if combined with other kinds of animals, and this effect may have caused her husband and his unit to go crazy, and an even greater threat that this shimmer and its effects could affect the entire continent.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Natalie Portman, known for SONG TO SONG (2017), BROTHERS (2009), HEAT (1995), and the upcoming VOX LUX (2018). In support, we have Oscar Isaac (STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI , EX MACHINA , SUCKER PUNCH , and upcoming films LIFE ITSELF  and OPERATION FINALE ), Jennifer Jason Leigh (GOOD TIME , THE HATEFUL EIGHT , THE JACKET , THE HUDSUCKER PROXY , and the upcoming WHITE BOY RICK ), Gina Rodriguez (FERDINAND , THE STAR , DEEPWATER HORIZON , and upcoming film SMALLFOOT  and TV show CARMEN SANDIEGO ), Tessa Thompson (THOR: RAGNAROK , CREED , 3 episodes of TV show HEROES [2006 – 2010], and upcoming films CREED II  and FURLOUGH ), and Benedict Wong (DOCTOR STRANGE , KICK-ASS 2 , PROMETHEUS , and the upcoming AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR ).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing, we have Alex Garland, known for EX MACHINA, and just writing DREDD (2012) and 28 DAYS LATER… (2002). Co-composing the score is Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, both known for FREE FIRE (2017) and EX MACHINA. The cinematographer is Rob Hardy, known for EX MACHINA, BLITZ (2011), and the upcoming MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT (2018). So essentially, a big giant EX MACHINA reunion. Finally, the editor is Barney Pilling, known for SUFFRAGETTE (2015), THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014), and MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (2008).
Overall, this looks pretty good. The visuals look trippy, a fun mix of practical and special effects, so I guess we can expect some cool creature designs, and Portman looks like a total bad-ass with that M-16. That… that is an M-16, right? Whatever, sci-fi has me at “hello” all the time.
This is my honest opinion of: ANNIHILATION
Told in flashback. Lena (Natalie Portman) is a former Army soldier, now biologist for a school. However, it’s been a hard year for her, as her soldier husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), was out on an unknown mission and hasn’t come back in the year that he’s been gone. But one day out of the blue, he arrives, but seems to have no memory of what happened. Where he’s been, what his mission was, nothing of that nature. But then he suddenly falls ill, coughing up blood, and en route to the hospital, a squad of armed men take them away and wake up in an unknown facility that is purely there to study a extraterrestrial phenomenon: the Shimmer. No matter who is sent in, no one ever comes out. But within its unknown expanding walls, the Shimmer slowly threatens the entire world and a small team of women of different backgrounds, lead by Doctor Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), are gearing up to venture inside to collect data and possibly stop the Shimmer from destroying the world.
Damn. Just… just damn. Oh, I mean all this in the best possible way.
At first, I left the theater with a level of uncertainty, as if I didn’t like the movie as much as I wanted. But having given the movie some thought after a day, I discovered that not only is the film better than I originally felt, it’s an overall great film.
The reason I feel this way is because the movie leaves a huge impact. There is so much that you can think about, interpret, and speculate. I can literally see people getting together and discussing what they each personally took away from the film and no one person would have the same thoughts. With that said, here’s mine.
As it’s nearly impossible to talk about this film without going into some serious spoilers, I highly recommend seeing the film first. Don’t say you weren’t warned. To skip ahead to my overall thought, hold CTRL-F, and type HPO-FT.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, can I just take a minute to say how fucking scary that bear thing was? It was mimicking the screams and cries of help from Sheppard! When those screams came out of its mouth, that sent chills down my fucking spine. I’ve never been so unsettled watching something horror related since… shit, I have no idea when. Even the best and my favorite horror films don’t do anything this spectacularly unnerving and memorable.
Let’s talk about that ending, y’all. Is Lena an alien? Is she still Lena as we knew her? Is she something more? Really think about this question? There’s so many ways to interpret each answer. Alright, is she an alien? The yellow swirly eyes are certainly abnormal. Kane had ’em too. So… argument over, right? I say, not necessarily. Consider the final lines of the movie.
Are you Kane?
I don’t think so. Are you Lena?
Really pay attention to those lines. “I don’t think so.” We all saw that footage of two Kanes, one blowing himself up and the other promising to find Lena. But how certain are we that the one that lived is the original? How certain are we that it’s the alien? How certain are we that they aren’t one in the same? Even the duplicate doesn’t seem certain himself. Now look at Lena. She said nothing. Now compare their expressions when asked the questions. Kane doesn’t really seem like he’s emoting, does he? At least, not nearly as much as Lena. That’s the look of a someone who is even less certain. Could this just be bad direction from the director? Possibly. Could this just be a case of overacting from Portman? Possibly. Doubtful on both accounts, but possibly. I’m more inclined to believe not, again, for both accounts.
Consider. Lena makes it clear that the Shimmer wasn’t destroying anything, but rather making something new. The mutated crocodile had rows of teeth more akin to sharks than actual crocodiles. The crocodile wasn’t destroyed, it was changed. The mutant bear thing? A product of change, not destruction. While they have unnatural appearances and features, we can surmise that these are not aliens. The plants, the corpses of people, they’re all mutations. Something different, but still something familiar.
But okay, fast forward to the lighthouse scene. We know that given the time, the duplicates can physically take the form of whoever they come in contact with, imitating their movements, and what have you. This is evidenced by both Kane and Lena, with some differences. We know that time in the Shimmer is different than time in the outside, and Kane was gone for a year. But to him, he might have only been gone a month or two. Either way, in the footage that Lena finds in the lighthouse, we see that Kane was communicating with his duplicate. He didn’t seem to know if he himself was the original or the duplicate. So as you can see, no one knows who they are. We also saw in the first found-footage that Kane and his group cutting up one of their own to see his gory and moving guts, so it’s entirely possible that he was driven insane.
So based on all that I’ve mentioned, what does that tell us? Are they the real Kane and Lena, or are they the duplicates? If I were to fire a shot in the dark, here’s my interpretation. Kane’s the duplicate, but Lena’s the original, albeit with mutation. The emotions are the takeaway for me. The duplicate seems to recognize Lena when it arrives at their home in the beginning of the film, so I think that the duplicates, when given enough time with the originals, can not only imitate their movements, but also imprint their memories. Maybe not everything, as Dupli-Kane does mention in the beginning that he “recognized” her. If I were to hazard a guess, duplicates understand who’s important in the original’s lives, but may not necessarily know them. They’re still separate individuals.
There’s still one glaring hole in my theory, however. It’s established that Kane and his unit went crazy, right? This is likely because they spent so much time in the Shimmer. Spend too much time in it, get mutated, get mutated, go crazy. So… why didn’t Lena go crazy? What makes her stand out as opposed to everyone else? We clearly see both Anya (Gina Rodriguez) and Josie (Tessa Thompson) go a little nuts. One violently, the other more like she’s on a high from marijuana. Ventress seems more possessed and then… broken down to her basic particles? I don’t know what the hell that was. The absorption of her essence? Any guess is valid at this point. You could say it was cheese, and that’d be just as good. But back to Lena, I suppose you could say that the mutation affects everyone differently. Some go crazy, some turn into a plant, and… some get turned into a tornado of light and get absorbed into the walls- seriously, what was that?! And maybe some mutations don’t do anything.
Another hole in my theory is that her introduction is the exact same as Kane’s intro. Think about it. He returns, but doesn’t seem to have any memory of where he’s been and doesn’t seem to want to talk about it. Minus the “talking about it” aspect, this is exactly how Lena is introduced. No memory, or very fuzzy memory. That seems a little too coincidental, don’t you think? So, okay, then they’re both duplicates. Makes sense. But still, I think the way Lena emoted at the end and the way she didn’t respond to whether or not she was real is something a little too odd to be a definitive answer.
But I’ve put my theory out there. Kane is dead, and Dupli-Kane took his place, but Lena is the original with mutation. But really, I think one of the greatest things about this movie is that there’s so many different theories that this movie can offer. I may have my theory, but I would love to hear someone else’s.
About the closest thing to a complaint that I have with the film is that the supporting cast isn’t very well-developed and even almost gets annoying. They don’t quite get there, but almost. It’s pretty horror-tropey that you can just tell who’s going to be killed off. Having said that, I’m giving this a huge pass because when a character dies, it really contributes something. When Sheppard dies, yeah, she’s a throwaway character, but then Anya thinks she hears Sheppard crying outside after Lena said she found Sheppard’s body, but it was really the mutant bear thing that was mimicking her voice, and Anya’s death is a result of this creature’s trickery. Each death contributes something visually interesting, or narratively compelling.
Overall, this film is great and is one of the smarter sci-fi films to come out in the last couple years. And being a February release, that’s damn impressive. The visuals are incredible, from the set designs, to the CGI, it’s all immensely creative and utterly gorgeous just to even look at. The story is compelling, not in the least bit predictable, and by God some of the horror elements are shockingly effective. And I won’t lie, this is probably one of Portman’s best roles. Just… a huge job well done to everyone involved. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I couldn’t recommend this enough. This is the first true must-see movie of the year. Drop what you’re doing and go check it out. I saw it once, but I wanna see it again, and I wouldn’t mind owning this sucker on Blu-Ray when the time comes. Fear what’s inside the Shimmer, but don’t be afraid to see this movie.
My honest rating for ANNIHILATION: 5/5