Rated R for beautiful gore. It's a horror movie, but it looks pretty different than other horror movies. This doesn't mean that it isn't absolutely messed up. It is. There are some pretty intense scenes. The language is probably the least of your troubles. Like, it's really a new way to look at gross stuff. If you are afraid of animals attacking you, then this movie probably isn't for you. R.
DIRECTOR: Alex Garland
I need to take care of some business before I go into the nitty gritty of this analysis. I guess some of you may have noticed the soft reboot of this page. My film class died this year. I was asked to teach AP Literature, so my elective was the first thing to go. vmafilm.weebly.com is now officially Literally Anything: Movies. I'm expanding my brand. Apparently, I have a brand. Since the podcast is Literally Anything (located at literallyanything.net) and I put a lot of work into that, I mind as well make them one thing. For the past three years, I've tried updating from regularly to daily (weekdays. Give me a break). I've invested more in this blog than I thought I ever would, so I'm going to sink some money into it. The old link should still get you here, but you can now update your bookmarks to literallyanythingmovies.com.
Anyway, I'm way behind on my Alex Garland. I think that was also true about Ex Machina. I adored Ex Machina, but I caught it when it was free on Amazon Prime or something. Ex Machina was in that genre of recent additions that really feel like a Black Mirror episode, which I suppose is just 21st Century for a Twilight Zone episode specifically about technology. I know that there was a bunch of chatter about Garland's follow-up with Annihilation. There was some controversy with the casting, I hear. Is Annihilation based on a book? The recesses of my mind and my complete ambivalence towards Googling it right now remind me that there was a racial recasting in this one and it just got awkward. I also know that there was a lot of speculation about what the ending meant. Okay, I can kind of see that. I think literallyanythingmovies is going to be all about SPOILERS, so I slowly might be phasing out the spoiler warning and just sticking it at the top of the page. I can see that. The thing about Annihilation is that it isn't the same kind of movie as Ex Machina. It looks like it was made by the same guy. When I say that, I mean that Alex Garland makes a really pretty-yet-intense film. That's what is going on here. For a guy who teaches writing (please note, the point of this blog is to journal, warts and all), there are a million dots I want to connect right now and I'm having trouble organizing them. It's almost like I should plan topic sentences rather than just ramble. But I have a kid screaming in my ear that he's Ant-Man. Okay, back to one. Ex-Machnia and Annihilation are both gorgeous and upsetting movies. But Ex-Machina is a better movie. Why? It's a tight script that is smart without talking down to its audience. Annihilation really implies that it is a smart film. It's not dumb. I won't claim that. But it isn't as smart as it says that it is. Honestly, Annihilation's real victory is in its visuals. The story...is fine. But it reads more like a '90s horror movie than it does the spiritual successor to Ex-Machina.
Annihilation knows how to make plants scary. I'm sorry, M. Night Shylamalan. Apparently, it can be done well. For this reason alone, Annihilation deserves to exist. The only thing that really makes Annihilation somewhat lacking is whatever expectations you bring in with you. Okay, if you had never known that Alex Garland made this movie, would there be any problem with it? Probably not. I don't think it would be an absolutely outstanding film regardless. But Annihilation comes across like a fancier Mimic. That sounds like an insult, but it kind of treats its conceit the same way. A lot of this film is an excuse to show something cool. Natalie Portman's Lena teaches something very specific in the beginning of the film. It takes this scientifically basic idea and sci-fis the heck out of it. It's on par with that whole "What if you could use your whole brain trope?" It seems like there is something miraculous that is being discussed there. It seems like science is being messed with. But then you think about it for a half second and realize that it's just nonsense. Like, it's gobblety gook, right? I'm an English major and I'm terrible at science. But this movie just feels like it is a long delay for a pseudo-answer. Listen, you can show me mitosis all day. I get how cell division works. I am glad that the movie reminded me that cell division was a thing. But at the end of the day, it was really on the nose to have that be the cause of everything in the shimmer. I know. That's not the most eloquent reaction to everything I have seen on the screen. But what it does do is allow for my mind to get playful with the things I see on screen.
I don't know why we keep trying to make plants scary. I mean, Annihilation is probably the first venture to really make it work. I know you Alan Moore fans will probably start yelling at me about Swamp Thing and all of that hullabaloo. But there's something absolutely gross and mystifying about what you see in Annihilation. I love the idea of blending something made of meat with something that is plant based. Okay, I know that there are some very specific phobias out there. I think the one I hear about closest to his is about the things that are pore related. I'm terribly sorry if I'm triggering readers while discussing this. It doesn't really do anything for me, but I kind of get it. There's something alien about the whole experience. I think Annihilation hits a lot of those buttons. There's something ancient about the old world coming back and merging with us. I think of "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant. "Thanatopsis" offers similar imagery, the ground merging with our corpses. Mind you, in "Thanatopsis", that merging makes us one with kings and one with the planet. There's something noble about it. Annihilation takes kind of an alternate route to some of the same content. If "Thanatopsis" is mostly noble with a shade of creepiness, Annihilation flips the ratio around. Watching vines force their way through veins is troubling to say the least. Again, I know this is probably someone's button. I actually get anxious when weed-whacking giant weeds, the ones that look like cabbages. When they spray all over me, my blood pressure goes up. But Annihilation has more of an element of "cool" about the whole thing. It's watching a science experiment that might play a twist on you. That's the majority of the film.
From a paranoia perspective, I think the movie is functional. It's the Doctor Who moonbase. Yeah, it's an open world moonbase. But for all intents and purposes, there is no out. Garland sticks his characters six days in the shimmer without knowledge of how they got there. They know that there might be a way out if they follow the coast, but returning to the point of origin seems fruitless because they have no idea how they got there. For the sake of storytelling, there are landmarks. But like a moonbase, everything is just Shimmer. It's variation on the same thing. But we have seen this before. As much as I like Annihilation, I think that The Thing by John Carpenter is actually a better version of this. Yeah, The Thing is less pretty, but it is equally impressive. I don't know what it is about the women who are all lumped together, but I feel like people turn on each other...because. I don't really understand the secrecy element of Lena keeping information about her husband from the others. It seems like with movies like this and The Abyss, stressful situations make borderline people very very crazy very very quickly. I like that a lot in storytelling, that wild card. But I also think that a character kind of needs to ramp up to insanity. That's what would benefit from a television version of Annihilation over a film version. Over the course of the movie, everyone kind of loses it. Even the protagonist isn't in the most healthy place by the end of the film. From a viewing perspective, it makes it kind of hard to intellectually attach to the motivations of the characters. For example, I'm thrilled to see Tessa Thompson in something else. Since Ragnarok I have been interested in her as an actress. I instantly grabbed onto her character sooner than, say, Jane the Virgin. I have no problem with Gina Rodriguez (I'm not Googling any of this), but I like Thompson, so I watch for her. But when she has her breakdown, as well performed as it was, I had no transition into it. This all begs to question why Lena lasts as long as she does. It feels like the Shimmer is perhaps torturing her more than the others. We have Oscar Isaacs everywhere. (I refuse to call him "Kane".) It seems like her story is the one that is most connected to the events in the Shimmer, yet she is the least crazy of them. While I adored the scene and especially how it looked, it is weird that Thompson just decides to be crazy and die. It's an odd decision. We see stuff like this with people going crazy. We know that our protagonists are under the influence too, but we never really believe it because stuff just happens to other characters.
I wanted to love Annihilation more. It's a very good movie and it is absolutely gorgeous. I don't think I've ever thought of horror movies as pretty, but this one definitely is. It's just that it seems rather run of the mill compare to some of the other science fiction outings I've seen lately. The Shimmer, with all of its explanations, still seems kind of lacking depth. It doesn't really tie emotionally to a theme as much as it needs to. I know, you really could make it fit. But it just seems convenient at times. The Shimmer does what it is supposed to do. It's a set that is a Macguffin. That's fine and all, but I really wanted something concrete to tie the whole thing together.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.