Sunday 18 March 2018

Annihilation is a hybrid house of horrors

Director Alex Garland's follow-up to his claustrophobic sci-fi masterpiece Ex Machina splices together DNA from Avatar, John Carpenter's The Thing, Apocalypse Now and Alien.

Annihilation is a controversial adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's award-winning novel, which I've yet to read so was free of any preconceptions. The controversy derives, for the most part, from Paramount's decision, in the wake of Mother!'s, directed by Darren Aronofsky, tepid box office, not to release the movie theatrically outside the US and China due to a poor test screening, and the director's reluctance to dilute this cerebral and profoundly ambiguous sci-fi thriller.

So, cinema's loss is Netflix's gain. Netflix completes a trifecta of streaming sci-fi movies day-one starting with The Cloverfield Paradox, Duncan Jones' misfiring passion project Mute and now Annihilation starring Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac.

Annihilation is Netflix's first bonafide sci-fi classic, which will be deconstructed, frame-by-frame, by cinephiles for decades to come. It's a puzzling sci-fi thriller paradox best enjoyed sans spoilers. So, in the service of that, I won't say too much. However, fellow Doctor Who fans may recognise an indirect nod to Tom Baker's classic gothic serial Horror of Fang Rock.

From Natalie Portman's always compelling central performance as Lena, a wife in search of answers as to what happened in the Shimmer to her soldier husband, played by Oscar Isaac, to a sense of wonder juxtaposed with brutal horror. Annihilation's nuanced images, poetic musings and evocative soundscapes will haunt you long after the end credits have finished rolling and for that, I applaud Alex Garland.

Annihilation earns a deserved place alongside Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 in the Hollywood pantheon of thought-provoking filmmaking in an era dominated by bombastic multi-billion-dollar franchises. It’s available to stream on Netflix.

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