If I see there’s a new Sci-Fi movie with good reviews I’m definitely going to see it. However in the case of Annihilation I would not call it neither good nor Sci-Fi. The movie should be classified for as an emotional horror thriller. The overall style to the film is definitely reminiscent of Arrival, which was actually an excellent film. But where Arrival succeeds at writing and plotting, Annihilation flounders into a meandering mess where at the end you are left wondering: What happened. Or more likely you will not care at all because it was a movie where the style and emotional beats are elevated at the expense of everything else.
Often I see movies fall into that same trap. A character needs to be brought to a certain emotion state and the plot has to be wrangled into contortions for that to fit. This emotional story telling only works when the characters are believable and their impact on the world can be felt. In Annihilation neither are true.
The story can be summarized as Natalie Portman feels so bad about her dead husband she repeatedly cheated on that she wants to go into a fantasy land that no one understand or has ever returned from. So she joins up with a troop of other mentally unfit women and enters the “shimmer”.
The first huge plotting red flag I noticed was that upon entering the shimmer everyone in the group lost about 3 days of memories. Now emotionally this is to make Natalie Portman feel off balance. However, the effect is never mentioned again, and the trained scientists who were literally sent in to document as much of the shimmer as possible had no logs, journals, videos, audios, or anything to help them figure out what they did during that missing time. Oh and we learn that electronics sure work just fine in there because we got to see other people’s recordings a couple times. It’s hard to get into a movie about a mysterious effect field if the people trying to study it have the scientific acumen of 8 year olds.
Which also begs the question of why didn’t automated drones go in first to map the area? Why was time reported to be different inside the shimmer when the sun and day cycles occurred inside as normal? And why did the “refraction” seem to affect people only when it was convenient and not at others? One of the women literally changed into a tree within a few seconds, a process that no one else seemed especially worried about.
And then there’s the alien. In Arrival the whole movie was about scientists methodically trying to communicate with visitors from outer space. In annihilation the first reaction Natalie Portman has for the seemingly benign alien is to attack and kill it. Is she trying to kill it like she killed her marriage? Is the alien trying to duplicate humans as an attempt to communicate? We never really find out because she kills the alien with a grenade and I guess everything just kind of burns up and there’s no evidence for anything anymore. But it’s okay because the team brought individual Go-Pro cameras to document everything they saw hapaahahahaha just kidding they didn’t document anything, even though they brought video camers. The movie ends with just one crazy woman confessing some of the confusing things she saw with no evidence to back it up. Oh and maybe the alien is her husband’s doppleganger. Extraterrestrials could be polygamous so I guess Natalie Portman’s marriage is saved!
This is not a movie which even comes close to explaining what happened. It is style. It is emotion. It is about nothing, because in the end nothing mattered. Watch the first and last scene, cut out everything in the middle, and you’ll be as knowledgeable about the movie Annihilation as anyone else.