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Annihilation: Movie Review

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The latest sci-fi flick courtesy of Paramount studios, Annihilation, finally arrives for American audiences and proves to be a match for that studio’s 2017 triumph, Arrival. Their newest venture into the genre is just as visually and intellectually captivating, this time helmed by Alex Garland (Ex-Machina) who not only directed, but also wrote the adaptation of the first book for the screen based on the acclaimed Southern Reach series by Jeff VanderMeer.

Natalie Portman stars as the biologist, Lena, being interrogated about her experience inside “the shimmer,” a quarantined contaminated area of swampland surrounded by a growing ethereal border from which nothing has crossed back over, except for her husband. Lena followed her husband’s footsteps in volunteering for an expedition into the shimmer after he returns with a mysterious illness which she thinks she can fix if she sees what he was exposed to. We see as she relays her experience as the only surviving member of her mission to the government agent, Lomax, played by Benedict Wong. The crew she belonged to contained five women, all misfits in society seeking redemption or adventure. The director of the mission is the psychologist, Dr. Ventress, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh is a cold, calculating, and untrustworthy leader. The biologist and psychologist are joined by the paramedic, Anya Thorensen played by Gina Rodriguez, the physicist Josie Radek played by Tessa Thompson, and scientist Cass Shepherd played by Tuva Novotny. The group of women, all carefully chosen by Dr. Ventress, are all intrigued by the environment contained within the shimmer and have nothing to lose by accepting the mission, yet from the start we know only Lena makes it out alive.

The film has already attracted controversy prior to its release. One issue stems from its casting choices. It is hinted at in book 2 that Lena is of Asian descent, and Dr. Ventress is part Native-American. From my take on the series, their backstories are meant to be vague therefore their ethnicities were not meant as key plot points but I understand the disappointment. I still think Natalie Portman was a good choice for Lena, who is extremely intelligent, standoffish, and secluded. I’m also very proud to see another sci-fi film with females as heroines. The world of sci-fi films has long given women the role of strong badass protagonists. In works like Arrival, the Alien series, Buffy, Firefly, and the MCU, women have done much more than played the oblivious eye candy or damsel in distress. In Annihilation, we get not only a predominantly female cast which gets the most on screen time, we also get realistically intelligent and flawed characters. This movie showcases that a female led epic is not lacking; it is not only the vital representation that is necessary and long overdue, but it’s also a breath of fresh air. How many times have we seen all male missions? Hollywood has been stale and unoriginal for a long while, it needs to pull stories from all walks of life to stay afloat.

VanderMeer’s trilogy is a quick read, and as intricate and original as it is, it leaves room for a screenwriter and director to play with creatively. I read the series when I first heard of the film project so as a late to the game fan, I’m not one of those diehard “the book was better” snobs. I understand some things don’t transfer well to the screen, and I’m happy with Garland’s take on Annihilation. My only qualm is that we only get one Southern Reach film, but hey, I would have been happy with 6 Hobbit films.

Another controversy for Annihilation is its international release. Paramount has given the rights to Netflix, and the film will be streamed for international audiences in the next couple weeks. They will not have the opportunity to see its vivid scenes in theatres. I wouldn’t want to miss out on the spectacular visuals and even more so, the score, sound effects and soundtrack which were my favorite part. That is very disappointing, especially if the studio’s decision stems from personal conflicts when they have a gem of a film whose visuals would be most appreciated on the big screen. Audiences have come to expect lackluster adaptations and remakes, therefore they’ve been turning more to streaming strives for original content, so why wouldn’t you give this enveloping thriller a good shot? Smh.

Annihilation (2018)
  Director:  Alexander Garland
Studio:  Paramount
Genre:  Adventure, Fantasy, Drama
MPAA:  R
Release Date:  February 23, 2018
Author:  Roxy De La Rosa
Roxy de la Rosa Roxy and her dogs are San Diego natives all hailing from Baja. She is a graduate of SDSU with a bachelor's degree in Television, Film, and New Media Production. Roxy is a huge comedy film and sitcom fan who hopes to become a TV writer, but for now she spends her time "researching" Netflix when she should be writing.

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