Anchored by a visually stunning fantasyland setting, a cerebral cocktail of plot and theme, and a fierce cast of women warrior-scientists, Paramount Pictures’ Annihilation hits U.S. theaters today to a flood of positive critical reaction.
“In just about every respect, it’s the finest cinematic sci-fi in years—or, at least, since [director Alex] Garland’s prior Ex Machina,” wrote The Daily Beast’s Nick Schager, echoing the popular sentiment for this adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name.
The premise is simple enough: a meteorite crashes into a Florida lighthouse, unleashing a mysterious rippling force field dubbed the Shimmer. This dancing wall of color and motion slowly expands, and the zone within changes, like a puncture in reality, filling with enormous genetically mutated animals, overgrown plants sized and shaped like humans, and other oddities alternately novel and terrifying. Eleven expeditions have entered – only one person has returned: Kane (Oscar Isaac), the husband of ex-soldier/biologist Lena (Natalie Portman). He is diseased and dying and has been reduced to a sub-human state of mumbling and fear.
Partly in hopes of saving him, Lena joins an all-woman expeditionary force – led by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and also including another doctor, Anya (Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie (Tessa Thompson), and anthropologist Cass (Tuva Novotny) – on an exploration and recovery mission. Within the Shimmer, they lose communication with the outside world. Their compasses and other instruments fail. As they trek through the increasingly wild landscape, the DNA mutations transforming the forest creatures infest their bodies, their memories fail, they lose their sense of space and time.
What happens between there and the final wrenching scenes has critics elated. “Annihilation is a ferocious, feral, female-centric update of fearsome monster classics like The Thing and Alien,” writes Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter.
Here’s a deeper look at what the critics love most about Annihilation:
“This is a serious, considered film,” writes Richard Lawson in Vanity Fair.
And it is. At once a thriller, a science fiction thought piece, a horror flick, and a tale of environmental catastrophe – while hinting at humanity’s ultimate helplessness against a huge and ruthless universe – Annihilation manages to accomplish many things at once with an expansive and intricate plot.
“For those willing to put in the effort, Annihilation achieves that rare feat of great genre cinema, where audiences are not merely thrilled … but also feel as if their minds have been expanded along the way,” writes Peter Debruge in Variety.
Wandering this other-Earth burbling dreamlike within the Shimmer, the explorers amble over a landscape that resembles some videogame fantasy world, where predators roar with the screams of past victims and the intensifying light elides the distinction between illusion and reality.