What I find fascinating about Alex Garland projects, like Ex Machina and Annihilation, is his exploration of how fragile we are as a species and seem bound to be the creators of our own demise. In Ex Machina (absolutely wonderful film), it was our exploits into the field of A.I. and here it is our fragile place in the universe on a molecular level. Both films leave you unsettled by the realization that we are vunerable beyond imagination.
When Annihilation works, it is at the top of the film game. However, when it misses the mark, it falls way short. I'll say right now that I'd give this a 4 of 5 on my rating scale. Some of the faults of this project can be laid at the feet of the script (adapted by Garland) but that isn't the sole problem. There are some spoilers in this review.
The plot revolves around an event at a lighthouse that creates a 'shimmer' that grows - like cell duplication - and threatens to encompass the whole planet if left unchecked. Teams are sent in to explore but no one ever returns. Natalie Portman - a biology scientist, ex-soldier - joins a team of five women to see if they can succeed where others have failed.
Portman, who's acting range is undeniable, demonstrates in brief moments that she could play an action star if she wanted, but I hope she doesn't as she has so much more to offer movie audiences. This is not her best performance but she pulls it off.
Jennifer Jason Leigh does a good job. Problem is, the script offers her little to work with in this movie. I honestly, still don't know what her character was all about even though she delivers a revealing monologue toward the end.
The standout actress in this ensemble was Tessa Thompson. Even when the script rambled (at times, especially when the team enters the 'Shimmer', I was wondering what the team's objectives were) she carried the scenes. And her decision not to fight the force behind the 'Shimmer' but to basically go with the flow of nature, was probably the most compelling moment in the movie. I really loved her performance.
Tuva Novotny's character was set up in the script as the most likeable team member, only to meet a tragic end. Novotny pulled the part off well and the audience was sorry to see her demise. The script exploring what it is like to experience that fear at the end of life, was a poignant moment.
The one performance I found dreadful was Gina Rodriguez. The script offered her crumbs of predictability and she somehow managed to play the role with a flat one dimensional style. I don't know why this character was left in the final script.
On the directing end, the music was a big turn-off. About 2/3rds of the way through the movie, as Portman, now alone, approaches the lighthouse, there is this use of music that basically becomes part of the script. At first it was like, okay, interesting way to express the apprehension but the music got LOUD, the same notes more frequent - it wasn't a score really as much as someone hitting the same chord on a synthesizer over and over again - to the point it distracted from the movie and got on my nerves. I wanted to hit a mute button.
Overall, this movie is worth the watch if no other reason than it does have a message worth pondering. The truth is, it could've be done better but is still of a higher quality than most attempts at this genre. It is still in theatres. When you do watch it, prepare to be unsettled.