Dangerous Mutations: A Review of Annihilation

This review is spoiler-free. As always, the only time I’d share spoilers in a review would be if I needed to warn my readers about potentially triggering themes or scenes in the source material. This was one of the films I talked about wanting to watch in this post. So far, I’ve also reviewed Into the Forest from that list.

Annihilation is a 2018 film based on a book by the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. It’s about five military scientists who travel into the heart of a rapidly-expanding anomaly called “The Shimmer” in order to discover what caused it and why every other team of explorers who had been sent into it had disappeared without a trace.

There were a large enough group of characters that I feel the need to introduce all of them in some detail before diving into my thoughts on the story itself. I’m discussing everyone in the past tense in order to avoid accidentally giving away any hints about what happened to them or who may or may not have made it to the final scene.

 

The Characters

Natalie Portman as Lena.

 

Lena was a biologist, professor at Johns Hopkins, and former soldier. Her husband, Sergeant Kane, had disappeared on a top secret mission about a year before the events of this story took place, and she was still overcome with grief over her loss due to the fact that the military refused to tell her anything about where he’d been or what might have caused him to go missing.

She was a brave person who knew how to react quickly and appropriately in a crisis. Most of the scenes in this film were shown from her perspective.

 

Gina Rodriguez as Anya Thorensen.

 

Gina was a paramedic from Chicago.

She was an intelligent and cautious person who always put safety of herself and her crew first. I also enjoyed her subtle sense of humour.

 

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Ventress.

 

Dr. Ventress, a psychologist, was the team leader of this group. She had been responsible for performing psychological evaluations of and assembling all of the previous groups that had been sent into “The Shimmer.”

She was a stubborn, serious, and determined person. Once she set her mind to accomplish a goal, no one could dissuade her from pressing forward to achieve it. At times, she did come across as ill-tempered to me because of how unwilling she was to listen to the concerns of the other women in her group when their mission started to go awry.

 

Tessa Thompson as Josie Radek.

Josie was a physicist.

She was an intelligent and trusting woman whose natural inclination was to assume the best of everyone she met. If you forced me to pick a favourite character in this story, Josie would be it. I only wish the adventure had been told from her point of view instead.

 

Tuva Novotny (in centre) as Cassie “Cass” Shepherd.

 

Cass was a  geomorphologist. Her responsibility on this mission was to test the magnetic fields around the boundary to determine why drones, cellphones, and other types of technology malfunctioned so often within “The Shimmer.”

She was a quiet and hardworking person who seemed to have no interest in drawing attention to everything she did for the group. There’s something I admire about that.

My Review

One of the biggest reasons why I was so excited to see this film had to do with the fact that it had an all-female cast. I have never watched anything in the science fiction genre that was so centred on the experiences of women in an unfamiliar and dangerous environment. At most, I would have expected to see two women in this sort of tale. It was thrilling to have an entire team of women hiking into “The Shimmer” to discover its secrets. If you’re listening, Hollywood, we need many more stories like this in the future!

The beginning of the mission.

 

The diversity of the cast only drew me into the plot more. From age to race to sexual orientation, these characters were from a wide range of backgrounds.  It was a breath of fresh air to see them working together to reach a common goal without any of these labels being a source of conflict for the plot.

The beginning was a little confusing to me due to how much it jumped around from one time period to the next without much explanation about how all of the pieces fit together.  This is the only negative thing I’ll be saying about this film, and I’m mentioning it because it’s a storytelling device that I don’t generally find appealing. The writers did an excellent job of framing all of these seemingly-disparate scenes in ways that grabbed my attention, though, and I soon decided that I simply had to know how everything fit together.

In some ways, this wasn’t necessarily a typical science fiction movie. The pacing always remained steady, but the storyline was far more interested in encouraging the audience to ask probing questions about what was really happening to the characters as they marched deeper into “The Shimmer” than it was in surprising the audience with jump scares. I loved the fact that I was expected to think instead of bracing for the next monster leaping out of the shadows.

The apprehension I felt while watching this tale grew slowly. I wasn’t as frightened as I’d normally be while watching something from the horror genre, but I was more scared than I’d typically feel in a normal science fiction environment. With that being said, I’d still hesitate to include it in the horror genre despite what I’ll say about the gore in the next section of this review. The vast majority of the plot was centred on science fiction themes instead.

“The Shimmer” was not a safe place to visit regardless of how strong one might be or how many pieces of equipment they brought in to study this phenomenon. As beautiful as this area of land was at times, it was also full of dangers that could not always be predicted or avoided. The conflict between the peaceful setting and the anything-but-peaceful things that happened in it fascinated me.

The preview at the end of this post will show you a few examples of the types of things the characters experienced once they entered “The Shimmer”. Combining the DNA of species that would normally never be combined created all sorts of living beings that have to be seen to be believed. I was fascinated by how all of this worked and how far the storytellers ran with this concept.

I can’t go into any further details about what else the characters discovered without giving away spoilers, but I will tell you that it was quite creative and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. This was one of the major reasons why I’d recommend Annihilation so highly to anyone who has the slightest interest in checking it out.

The metaphors in this story were well written. I adored the fact that it could be interpreted from so many different angles, especially since the writers didn’t feel the need to nudge the audience in any particular direction. There was material to support multiple interpretations of what “The Shimmer” could be. One of the most popular theories about what it meant isn’t actually something I thought of when while I watching it, but it made perfect sense in retrospect.

I can’t say much else about this without giving away spoilers, but I would strongly encourage everyone to pay close attention to what is happening in the plot so you can come up with your own theories before wandering around online later on to see what other people thought.

A Note on the (Brief) Gore

There were two short but graphic scenes in this film. I was glad I’d been warned about them ahead of time so I could avert my eyes once they began. As I believe I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been losing interest in violence and bloodshed in fiction this year.

I’d be happy to privately share more information about when these scenes occur with anyone who would like to watch Annihilation but who might be hesitant about the gore factor. This is something I can discuss without giving away major spoilers, although I would have to share minor ones with you.

Should You Watch It?

Yes! I would heartily recommend watching Annihilation. It was a thought-provoking film that refused to spoon-feed its audience. I loved the process of figuring out what was really happening in “The Shimmer” and coming up with my own interpretations of how certain scenes should be understood.

Annihilation is available on iTunes.

2 Responses to Dangerous Mutations: A Review of Annihilation

  1. Very good! I liked it alot but felt it was a bit 4*-ish – not one I’d say ‘you HAVE to watch this’ about. Excellent review – you’ve covered everything!