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If you need sci-fi movies explained to you, you might want something less cerebral than Annihilation (2018). This movie assumes you can connect the dots on your own, allowing your mind to create more dread and terror than anything on the screen. Director Alex Garland is no stranger to edgy and beautiful Sci-Fi, and his writer/director spin for Annihilation proves he can handle the Jeff VanderMeer novel handily.

An object from space strikes a lighthouse and begins expanding and consuming the surrounding landscape. People go in, but they don’t come out. Several years and several expeditions later, Lena (Natalie Portman) attaches herself to the latest voyage after her husband (Oscar Isaac) returns following am unexplained 2-month absence as the lone survivor from the last team.  Former Army herself and now teaching grad-level cellular biology, she has the military and scientific chops to uncover what is being called officially “Area X” and colloquially “The Shimmer”. She joins members Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Radek (Tessa Thompson) and psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), on a mission they realize they may not return from. Time is compressed in Area X, so what feels like weeks to them is months on the other side of the Shimmer. The land inside is lush and appears habitable, but something is altering the genetic makeup of everything as if turning every possible variation on at once – species of the same flowers growing simultaneously from the same stem, bear creatures in genetic flux, gorgeous flora and fauna trying to be all things at once. It’s beautiful and it’s terrifying because normal science is beautiful and terrifying all by itself without any outside interference.

Spoiler alert – there is no mutant spider. THANK THE GODS!

Natalie Portman is steady as Lena who’s just trying to get some answers to help her husband. Jennifer Jason Leigh is phenomenal as the defacto leader in this film. Dr. Ventress pushes when her team is ready to quit and turn around. She makes the hard decisions no one wants to, and her fatalist demeanor is the only thing getting them towards their destination, The Lighthouse. Narratively, wrapped around their mission is Lena’s post-expedition interrogation by the military (Benedict Wong) as she walks them back through her weeks (or maybe it was months) leading up to her return to base. There are questions only she may have answers to.

This is an adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s 1st novel of the Southern Reach Trilogy, and it’s not a chapter by chapter translation. If you’re like me (and not afraid of hard thought during your entertainment) you’ll probably want to grab the entire trilogy and settle in. This movie is thought-provoking and subtly unsettling and I want to see it again.

If you see it, tell me what you think. I’d love to talk about it.

Annihilation (2018) is Rated R for lingering and pervasive dread, people getting cut with big knives, brief sexytimes, body modifications that shouldn’t happen to anyone while alive, BIG BRIGHT EXPLOSIONS, a forcibly removed jaw, and a giant bear- holy crap, the bear, we need to talk about the bear.

Annihilation is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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