DISCLAIMER: Contains major spoilers for Annihilation and disturbing images.
Annihilation is a 2018 film directed and written by Alex Garland. Based on the 2014 novel of the same name, it follows the journey of five scientists exploring into a mysterious zone called ‘the Shimmer’ caused by an extraterrestrial being.
Science-fiction is a fascinating genre. It allows us to build a unique new world based upon the structural realities of our own. It can be used as a warning of future technology. A hypothetical experiment. An insight to human nature. Annihilation isn’t any different in that sense; it’s exactly what you’d expect a science fiction film to be like. But through the fictional landscapes and made-up monsters lies a truth about ourselves that breathes life into this haunting story. This is the world of Annihilation.
I remember first hearing about this film through a trailer on YouTube. Just the idea of ‘The Shimmer’ was enough to grab my attention. I’ve always loved exploring new, creative worlds. When I got a chance to finally sit down and watch the movie, I was expecting to get my mind blown away. Science fiction movies are either very thought provoking or hard to follow. Sure enough, I was completely stunned-but not for the reason I originally thought of. I had failed to see that Annihilation wasn’t just science fiction-it bled into the horror genre as well.
The most terrifying part about this movie for me was this idea of an extraterrestrial being causing all life forces to mutate, duplicate, and eventually cease to be itself. Of course, the terrifying yet beautiful environment inside the Shimmer and haunting score provided by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow only add to the unnerving atmosphere that carries throughout the film. But the true horror lies through how much humans cannot comprehend it. Where did it come from? Did it come to Earth on purpose? Why does it mutate life? Does it mutate life to harm or create? Why does it do what it does? These questions never get answered simply because they can’t be answered. It’s completely other-worldly. Non-human. The being is infinitely complex and non-comprehensible. It’s borderline Lovecraftian horror It’s a take on aliens that I’ve never really seen, in any medium for that matter. This sort of unpredictability and unfamiliarity disturbs me to another level. If you can’t even understand your antagonist, how could you possibly begin to fight it?
“It’s not like us. It’s unlike us. I don’t know what it wants. Or if it wants.”-Jennifer Jason Leigh in her portrayal of Dr. Ventress
The alien also becomes tied in with the narrative plotline as well. Lena, a former U.S. soldier and cellular biology professor, becomes part of an expedition to venture into the Shimmer after her husband Kane comes back from an earlier one. This plotline is extremely familiar. Our protagonist ventures into a setting in order to collect information that will help them defeat the overall conflict of the story. Writer Alex Garland takes this familiar idea and enhances it by making it support a deeper, more personal story.
From the beginning of the movie, we’re introduced to this idea of destruction from creation. Lena tells her college class about cancer cells-how they mutate and make copies of each other, slowly eating away at the creature it inhabits. This idea is later reintroduced in the Shimmer, when Lena discovers that every living thing within the alien’s parameters becomes mutated. Meanwhile, we get to know about Lena’s personal struggles. We find out that she had an affair through one of her dreams. She eventually comes to the conclusion that her affair was what drove her husband to leave on the earlier expedition. Lena herself agreed to venturing in the Shimmer as a way to cope with her guilt. Watching the usage of genre and parallel between these two plot lines was so intriguing from the audience’s perspective.
Annihilation was truly an unforgettable movie. Even writing about it sends chills up my back. To the stunning visual effects to overarching thematic elements, this movie took all of my expectations and flipped it on its head. When you’re not tied by down by the realities of science, you can do amazing things to explore inventive concepts-and the flaws of human nature.