Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:

Title: Annihilation

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:

SCIENTIST: I'm sorry, we don't play God here.
HOMER: That's ridiculous. You do nothing *but* play God, and I think your octo-parrot would agree.
POLLY: Awk! Polly shouldn't be!
Brief Plot Synopsis: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 4.5 Titus Crows out of 5.

Tagline: "Fear what's inside."

Better Tagline: "Better run through the jungle."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Lena (Natalie Portman) has yet to come to grips with the (presumed) death of her soldier husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), who hasn't been heard from since leaving for a mysterious mission a year earlier. It stands to reason, then, that his unannounced return should be a cause for celebration, but he's unable to remember anything about the last 12 months and ... collapses with total organ failure. Lena is shown a top secret installation called Area X, where the government has been monitoring a possible alien incursion zone known as "the Shimmer." She also learns that before Kane's return, none of the other 11 missions sent to explore it have been heard from. Realizing that solving the mystery of the Shimmer might save Kane's life, Lena (ex-military herself) agrees to join yet another expedition, this one led by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

"Critical" Analysis: Whatever you preconceptions of Annihilation, writer/director Alex Garland has earned his genre bona fides. From zombie horror (28 Days Later) to space horror (Sunshine) to dystopian future bad-assery (Dredd), Garland’s demonstrated a skilled and knowing hand at realizing the terrifying and fantastic.

This was fully apparent in his directorial debut, 2015’s Ex Machina. That movie was (among other things) a cautionary tale about employing empathy when developing artificial intelligence, so about the only similarity it shares with Annihilation is a potentially horrifying ending and Garland’s willingness to defy common plot and character expectations.

Based on the first in Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach” trilogy, Annihilation is anything but a straight adaptation. That’s allowed, of course, and one could argue the film benefits from expanding the cast (including 180-degree turns from their most memorable roles from Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez and Thor: Ragnarok’s Tessa Thompson) and explicitly showing certain implied aspects.

That's the good news. The bad news is, you're unlikely to see any more Southern Reach movies on the big screen. Garland wrote a screenplay which ignores the next two books, and though Paramount secured movie rights to the entire series, they’ve since sold them to Netflix, reportedly because the studio found Annihilation “too intellectual” and “too complicated” for a mass audience.

Annihilation is many things; it’s a gorgeously realized (the Shimmer itself is like a tactile acid trip), thoughtful science fiction film that balances meditations on the fragility of life with sequences straight out of Bosch’s worst nightmares. It’s touching, mysterious, ambiguous, and sinister, as the motives of whatever’s behind the Shimmer are impossible to deduce. But is it "too complicated?”

If your definition of the term means requiring audiences to contemplate something other than the plot trudging from point A to point B, then sure: Annihilation is complicated. There are some non-linear story elements, and Garland maintains the Shimmer's mystery up to the end. In a country that spends $73.5 billion a year on lottery tickets, it doesn’t take much more than that.

Because of all this – the deliberate pace, eye-popping visuals, haunting score (courtesy of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow with Ben Salisbury) and Garland’s (almost) refusal to resort to neat resolutions – Annihilation will likely be a huge critical success. It also probably won’t make as much in its entire opening weekend as Black Panther’s per theater average for Wednesday. This isn’t a knock against BP, but rather a resigned admission that there isn’t much of a market out there for the kind of sci-fi Garland – or Duncan Jones, or Sebastián Cordero, or Jonathan Glazer – are putting out.

It may not be for everybody, but Annihilation is rewarding to those who put in the effort, and a treat for the sense besides. Spend your weekly Powerball money on a ticket for this instead.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar