Film Critic Matt Taylor falls in love with Barry Jenkins' newest film, If Beale Street Could Talk - a stunningly romantic filmWritten by Matt Taylor on 8th May 2019
Film Critic Matt Taylor is enamoured with Annihilation, the second directorial effort from Alex Garland, and Netflix's latest exclusive
Earlier this year, I reviewed Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In my closing words I said that if we saw one better film for the rest of the year, we were in for a real treat. That treat is here: it takes the form of Alex Garland’s Annihilation, and it stands as one of the most ambitious, profound, affecting, and gorgeous pieces of science fiction this century.
It’s based on Jeff Vandermeer’s novel of the same name, the first of his Southern Reach trilogy (though Garland has said he has ‘zero plans’ to adapt the second and third books to film), and follows a team of scientists making their way into what’s been dubbed ‘The Shimmer’, a zone of unknown quantity and origin. After three years of expeditions inside, only one person has ever made it out alive. For fear of revealing too much that’s all I’ll give away, but suffice it to say that what follows is nothing short of a masterpiece of modern cinema.
But what exactly is it that makes Annihilation so good? That’s a tricky question to answer. What’s perhaps most remarkable about it is the way it makes you feel; we’re simultaneously terrified and in awe of what we see before us, constantly on edge from the film’s very first frame.
“The film is also one of the best-looking movies this decade
The performances are solid as well; the cast is led by Natalie Portman, and also includes Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac and Benedict Wong. Portman in particular is on top form; her character Lena is very much the film’s heart – we open and close with her, and quickly learn her motives for wanting to enter The Shimmer. This, however, doesn’t play out as expected, and is fascinating to watch. Her story allows Garland to showcase the same control of information that he used so well in his debut feature Ex Machina; his use of flashbacks and flash-forwards slowly drip-feed us information to better understand Lena and her relationship to her husband, a key character.
Speaking of Garland’s abilities, his direction is flawless throughout. This is the work of a man who knows and cares extremely for his craft; he’s so in control of everything he puts before our eyes. He knows he has a smart enough audience to keep up with what he’s doing, so he pulls no punches – and while that’s admirable to see and mind-boggling to watch, it’s something that inadvertently leads to the film’s only problem: that it’s on Netflix.
“It’s still one of the best sci-fi movies this century, but I can’t help feeling it would have been so much better on the big screen.
Verdict: Beautifully haunting and profoundly unsettling, Annihilation is a visceral, affecting masterpiece of science fiction that cements Alex Garland as one of the greatest directors working in the industry today. Just please don’t watch it on your phone.