By Missy Henry
Going to the movie theater has been a tradition for decades. However, the main problem in our over-hyped culture is that the best trailers are always the best movies to go and see. Annihilation is the exception. Seeing this film on the big screen is worth the time, money, and respect. Director Alex Garland did an extraordinary job at adapting the books, written by Jeff VanderMeer, to film, and he skillfully leaves the audience with an eerie take on a dystopian environment that aims to create instead of destroy.
In the beginning of the film, the audience is introduced to Lena (Natalie Portman) giving a lecture on the life cycle of a cell to her students. We later discover that before Lena was a biologist, she was a soldier in the army and that is where, coincidently, she met her husband Kane. With Kane gone a year, Lena is forced to believe that her husband was killed in the line of duty. However, once she begins to move on, Kane comes home. It isn’t long until Lena realizes that her husband needs medical attention, and once she calls for an ambulance, things only spiral down from there.
Lena finds herself taken to a facility far from her home with a view of a glowing dome around a swamp. She is informed that the glow is called The Shimmer. It is slowly swallowing up the planet, and it is highly dangerous. Everyone who has gone in has not come out. This intrigues Lena and ultimately sways her decision to join the next group of brave women and venture into The Shimmer in order to better understand it.
The group learns quickly that their memories do not serve them well, as they cannot recall the first couple of days inside The Shimmer, but they make a plan to reach the lighthouse, where The Shimmer started. On their journey, they encounter dangerous animals that have been genetically altered to mimic Earth’s original version, but with more of an eerie twist. Lena’s time as a solider serves her well with encountering these creatures. Lena is also able to use her biology training to relate The Shimmer and its creatures to certain cellular structures and cycles. As the group enters further into The Shimmer, the nightmare only increases, driving a few members into madness. However, nothing is able to prepare them for what lies inside of the lighthouse.
With such an interesting plot line, it is a shame to say that Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Lena was not exactly fabulous. If anything, it was slightly better than mediocre. Portman was believable as a biologist, but not a soldier. There are several scenes where Lena uses her biological knowledge to her advantage, and Portman does a decent job of acting passionately and nerdy about it.
However, when the action started to climb, Lena needed to be a badass soldier, and Portman was not believable as such. Instead, she seemed to be either completely frightened or nonchalant about whatever was happening in the moment. I believe Portman’s overall portrayal of Lena was fine, but maybe with more emphasis and diversity in her acting skills, it could’ve been spectacular like the rest of the film. With that being said, Portman’s acting was successful when acting vulnerable and entranced by what happens in the lighthouse.
Fortunately, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow did a better job with the soundtrack than Natalie Portman did with her acting. I believe that a soundtrack can either make or break a movie, and this movie’s soundtrack was superb for the peculiar feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s important to point out that the soundtrack is austere, but is used to its full potential regardless. In the beginning of the film, Lena listens to a comforting and slightly bouncy song when painting her bedroom. This musical theme comes back towards the end of the film when Lena is in the lighthouse. Instead of the music being comforting as it was in the beginning, the tune is harsh and deep. It also echoes and repeats in the mind well after the movie ends. During the climax of the film, the music, or rather harsh noise, continuously builds and gets louder through the action. This style of music surrounds the film with an essence of wanting to hear more, but also wanting it to stop completely. It mirrors the film’s content and supports the uneasiness that a dystopian film can produce.
One of the most interesting and intriguing qualities about Annihilation would be that the audience really has no idea what is even happening until the end of the film. Its take on a dystopian environment is different from other movies of its kind because The Shimmer argues that it is creating something new instead of destroying it. It is because of this that I would rate Annihilation with B+. Regardless of Natalie Portman’s average acting, Annihilation is a film that will keep you guessing, keep you intrigued, and keep you disturbed.
Missy Henry is a third-year secondary education major who loves horror and suspense films.