Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Movie with Abe: Annihilation

Directed by Alex Garland
Released February 23, 2019

The notions of aliens coming in peace and holding a “first contact”-type event is featured frequently in science fiction. There are almost as many instances of hostile beings arriving intent on wiping out everyone on Earth, and then there are those films that represent the space in between, where something is going on but its nature and motivations are not at all clear. Investigating the mystery is the appeal of these projects, in which danger and doom may lurk around every unexplored corner, and those seeking answers will likely get much more than they would have liked in their search for the truth.

When her presumed-dead soldier husband (Oscar Isaac) returns after a year away on an unknown mission, biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) is read into a covert operation conducted around a phenomenon known as “The Shimmer” that has engulfed a national park and swallowed up anyone who has tried to enter it except for her husband. Lena joins psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the rest of her team, paramedic Anya (Gina Rodriguez) and scientists Josie (Tessa Thompson) and Cassie (Tuva Novotny), to travel to the lighthouse that they suspect serves as the source, encountering bizarre instances of mutations and crossbreeding along their treacherous journey.

This is the second film from writer-director Alex Garland, this time based on the 2014 Jeff VanderMeer novel. “Ex Machina” explored human capacity as it relates to artificial intelligence, and this film takes a similar approach to the scientific investigation of the unknown and unexplainable. Its portrayal of extraterrestrial arrival is reminiscent of the three one-season 2005 science fiction television series – “Threshold,” “Invasion,” and “Surface” – that posited a different sort of invasion based on the manipulation and transformation of the human body and mind. To say more would spoil this film’s plot, but it is a refreshing and extremely thought-provoking take that’s equally haunting and disturbing.

Portman, who this year also stars in the regrettable “Vox Lux,” is a fine choice to anchor this mostly female cast, which also includes Rodriguez in a standout turn that’s entirely different from her likeable and innocent “Jane the Virgin” protagonist. All five featured women do a tremendous job of portraying the gradual unraveling of their mental states as they encounter unimaginable and illogical things along their journey. This film’s visual effects, which strangely didn’t even make Oscar’s twenty-wide semi-finalist is, are a crucial element of this film’s visual aesthetic, which serves as a terrific complement to its absorbing intellectual presentation of something that is so often seen in far more physical and comprehensible terms.


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