Movie Review: Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland, 2018) – A team of military scientists enter The Shimmer, a quarantined zone where mutations thrive.


Annihilation finds both terror and beauty in the mutation of nature, as it does the same in our innate instinct for self-destruction.



Spoilers ahead.

It is in our nature to destroy ourselves. As Annihilation puts it, almost none of us commit suicide, whereas almost all of us self-destruct in some part of our lives. We drink, or take drugs, or destabilize the happy job or happy marriage. For some, vices are due punishment on themselves for reasons of guilt. Others feel alive by simply keeping our lives in motion – even if it is but chaos.

Such self-destructive tendencies occur biologically too. We change, as nature mandates. Human cells divide at a constant, and the natural process of mitosis sees our bodies duplicate new cells to replace damaged ones. We degenerate to heal and deteriorate with age, while cells replicate rapidly – without control – turn cancerous.

“No job is too big. No fee is too big.”

Our psychological and physical destruction is metaphorised on an ecological scale as the Shimmer. Its literal devastation of nature finds parallels with the team of scientists, who step into the quarantine zone, each with their own histories.

In Alex Garland’s ambitiously brilliant screenplay, The Shimmer’s apparent sentience births an understanding of each character’s desire for change. The resultant transmutation is not only stunningly manifested in terms of visuals, but meaningful for every one of them.

In her search for understanding, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) eventually becomes part of the Shimmer – the mission. Josie (Tessa Thompson), who self-harms out of a desire to feel alive, finds freedom by transforming into a different being. Looking to escape their lives, Lena (Natalie Portman) and her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) discover their replicas without the burden of their pasts.

Natalie Portman with her Oscar.

As do our psychology and biology, The Shimmer changes the scientists as individuals, and urges them to accept their transformation. Kane does, as Lena has not. Or so it seems. After all, the story unfolds from Lena’s perspective, its unreliable narrator casting doubt on her fate. Still, her glimmering eyes imply that she is no longer Lena or at least, no longer the same Lena as she was before the mission.

The conclusive change may perturb. But just as mutation can be used to describe a disease, it can be seen as evolution. In other words, a blip in our genetic make-up may categorically be the same as a necessary step towards survival. In Alex Garland’s beautifully realised vision, we see that The Shimmer – or self-destruction – does not simply equate to pure annihilation. Rather, it destroys, so that it may create new life.

17 thoughts on “Movie Review: Annihilation (2018)”

  1. I liked Natalie Portman in this one, she struck a good balance between science nerd and Lara Croft wannabe. But overall, I did not like this movie and was thoroughly disappointed. Maybe it was too cerebral for me. Maybe I was supposed to get so swept up in the awesomeness of what the movie was trying to convey that I overlook the ridiculous and shallow characters surrounding Portman and the epic fail in the scifi part of it. I understand what the movie was trying to get across, and I actually “got it”. I just think it did a terrible job of making a good movie to get it’s point across. Without good characters that engage you emotionally and scifi that is impressive and smarter than myself, what the movie was trying to say could have just as easily been said in a meme on Twitter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Tony. 😀 I’ve been curious ever since you said you disliked it, haha! Personally, I’d have to say Lena’s story did engage me emotionally. Her flaws expressed astute observations on humanity’s self-destructive tendencies, which I found thoroughly fascinating. To me, the theme was brought across quite beautifully in its subtlety, in a captivating and experiential slowburn.

      That said, I do agree some characters came across hollow, particularly Anya, who appeared somewhat distant and unreasonable. It is often a delicate balance between characterisation and story; this one tipped heavily – perhaps too much – towards the latter.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did like Lena and it was a cool concept and interesting way to bring to light a deep subject (that we should all think about as we evolve). I just think it was a terrible movie, the actual movie part. The most significant thing that has happened to humans is happening, and the best soldiers and best scientific minds go in (should be the best), then they act dumber than teenagers getting hacked up in a slasher movie. Just failed for me. But I do see how the deepness of it can be appealing to so many. I’ve not seen many 5 star reviews, It’s either a 1 or a 10. Love it or hate it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Mine’s on a 5-star scale, so it’s a 10 for me! 🙂 I suppose people don’t always make the most logical choices under unpredictable, perilous circumstances. But I do see how that can take away the enjoyment of what sets itself up to be a more intellectual film.

          Liked by 1 person

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