Monday, 23 July 2018

Annihilation ★★★★★

There have been a lot of mixed reviews about the recent spate of Netflix films to grace our screens – some have been praised by many, whereas others have been seen as disappointing. Netflix’s newest title, ‘Annihilation’ (directed and written by Alex Garland, known for ‘Ex Machina’), is one example that shows just how much potential their films have, and why we should be paying attention to the originals as well as the myriad of other films they show on their streaming service.

Set in the US, mysterious forces are about as a quarantine zone labelled as The Shimmer is getting bigger and playing havoc with the local wildlife and flora. Military scientists at Area X, a base nearby, are trying their hardest to keep it under wraps from the public, but every team they send in fails to return about from one lone individual, presenting more questions than answers. That individual is Kane (Oscar Isaac), an Army Special Forces Soldier who manages to get back to his wife Lena (Natalie Portman) before showing serious side effects that result in them both quarantined within Area X. Lena is recruited by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) due to her biological expertise, and she joins a group of female scientists who venture into The Shimmer, determined to reach a lighthouse where they believe the answers lie.

The concept of The Shimmer itself is really interesting – we learn early on that it affects radio signals, time perceptions, and living creatures within its vicinity. It’s a complete mystery even to those with expertise, and the viewer is never any wiser. It reminded me in a way of ‘Arrival’, directed by Denis Villeneuve – an intelligent and thought-provoking concept that explores deep and troubling questions regarding humanity, rather than just action and physical conflict.

I thought it was a very good move by the team to focus on an all-female cast for a change, giving the film a sense of female empowerment for an area that’s typically male-dominated. The characters are all relatable and easy to connect with, from the fiery paramedic Anya (Gina Rodriguez) to the much quieter physicist Josie (Tessa Thompson). Portman is excellent as expected and the rest of the cast give stellar performances in their roles, with a particularly good portrayal of emotional tension within the group.

The storyline is also highly enjoyable, filled with twists and turns that lead you ever-deeper into the tangled web of reality. Despite its originality, it’s both believable and fascinating, leading you to want to know more about the whys of the film rather than just the whats. It’s also brilliantly directed with a combination of beautiful cinematography and stunning CGI, which plays quite a big role given the effects we discover from The Shimmer later on in the film. I wasn’t expecting quite so much gore, with one scene that still just won’t budge from my mind, but I’d say that’s a good thing as it’s done well and is certainly memorable.

‘Annihilation’ is one of the best films I’ve seen from Netflix so far, with an ambitious premise and wonderful performances all round. It’s a great concept for a modern sci-fi film, and I’m definitely now looking forward to what Netflix will bring out next.

Hannah Read

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