‘Annihilation’ Review: Natalie Portman Stars in a Stunning Sci-Fi Thriller From the Director of ‘Ex Machina’

IndieWire | 2/21/2018 | Staff
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As artificial intelligence expands from sci-fi conceit to everyday reality, its implications inspire both horror and awe. Few recent movies have explored that divide better than writer-director Alex Garland’s robot rebellion thriller “Ex Machina,” and now it has some company with his stunning followup, which expands his thematic focus: Where “Ex Machina” argued that the machines are a few steps ahead of us, “Annihilation” suggests that the universe is even further along. At once a gripping jungle survival thriller and an alluring sci-fi puzzle, Garland’s heady gambit confirms he’s one of the genre’s best working filmmakers.

Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s first novel in his Southern Reach Trilogy, “Annihilation” finds biologist Lena (Natalie Portman, stern and focused, which also describes the movie’s tone) enlisting herself to follow an expedition into an abandoned American coastline overtaken by an enigmatic bubble. As she wanders a jungle overtaken by invisible processes that have led to unnatural plant life and at least one terrifying mutated bear, the body count rises and the mysterious threat builds. “Annihilation” falls neatly into a familiar tradition of survival stories stretching from Joseph Campbell to Ridley Scott, but it carries those tropes with a degree of confidence that leads to more far-reaching results in its climax, a satisfying and sometimes brilliant dose of Kubrickian storytelling that digs deep and goes visceral at the same time.

Deemed - Area - X - Region - Expedition

Deemed Area X, the region was previously explored in a military expedition led by her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac, in a robotic performance for reasons that become clear later on). He vanished there for 12 months, only to resurface in the middle of their kitchen with a vacant stare and failing health, a zombielike shell of his former self (think Dougie Jones on “Twin Peaks,” but a lot creepier). Snatched up by covert government agents, Kane’s...
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