Entertainment » Movies


by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday May 29, 2018

When Alex Garland undertook to bring Book One of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy to the screen, he hadn't read the subsequent two novels; he approached the film as a complete story in its own right. He also refrained from making the film too literal or slavish a translation of the novel, choosing instead to focus on a unique storytelling experiences over the details of the plot.

The result is frightening, but not not for the usual scarehouse movie reasons; instead, Garland's version of "Annihilation," now out on Blu-ray and DVD, twists the viewer's perceptions, plays with expectations, and confounds familiar genre tropes.

The film starts out with a meteor strike that punches a hole into the base of a lighthouse in a state park in Florida. Years later, an expanding area that seems to be some sort of dimensional warp swallows team after team of military investigators. Among the most recent group of men was Kane (Oscar Isaac), whose wife Lena (Natalie Portman) - herself an Army veteran - is a cell biologist. When Kane suddenly reappears at home after being missing for a year, the government takes him and Lena both into custody; but because Kane lapsed into a coma shortly after his reappearance, he's unable to relate his experiences or explain how he managed to return.

Lena agrees to join an all-woman expedition consisting mostly of scientists, knowing that any venture into "The Shimmer" (as the growing area of altered reality is called) is likely a suicide mission, but haunted by the mystery of what happened to Kane. As the group makes its way deeper into The Shimmer, they encounter ever-stranger phenomena. Answers await them at the lighthouse... if, that is, the team can survive long enough to get there.

Part suspense, part sci-fi adventure, and part relationship drama, this film's hybrid nature reflects the creatures within the realm it envisions. But it's the intellectual exercise that's most provocative; though a rationale is offered as to why things within The Shimmer are as they are, it's not meant to be anything more than hokum on which to hang other, more essential concerns. The end result is something that feels important even if it never feels entirely graspable, in the vein of "Solaris" or "Dark City." ("Annihilation" also manages to raise "Blade Runner"-esque questions about identity and survival.)

Sci-fi fans can dig into this film and enjoy as many viewings as it takes to feel they have gotten to the bottom of it. Along the way they can enjoy the three-part suite of featurettes that are included with the film, a clutch of extras that look at Garland's creative process, the design work and VFX that went into the film, interview with the cast, and more.

Blu-ray / DVD Combo

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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