Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist grieving her military husband who has been MIA on a secret mission for a year. When he suddenly walks into her life, strange, cold, not really recognizing her–and really really ill–she is compelled to find out what happened to him. The “secret” part of the mission involves an anomaly on the coast where the after-effects of a meteor direct-hit to a lighthouse has caused a “shimmer” that is expanding and “swallowing” the surrounding park. In Star Trek, this would be probably be a rift in the time/space continuum. In pop music, it would be the Hotel California, where you can check in any time you like, but you can never leave. Lena’s soldier husband Kane was the only one sent in to ever make it out. As a good scientist, she needs to know more, so volunteers to go in.
Her expedition is made up of the ragtag nerdy/smarty pants/warrior/leader types. Refreshingly, for whatever reason, they are all played by women (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny). This makes no difference in the plot or in the view of the shimmer. You know it is a matter of time that they figure out why the others never made it out, and that they will probably be victims before the game is over.
Annihilation is slow-moving, and the characters and not really fleshed out beyond learning a basic quirk or two before… (nice knowing ya!). In the quiet, there are also bursts of violence and some jaw dropping horror that will have you covering your eyes. The production designers have a field day fleshing out this world inside the shimmer, as well as the eerie light. It’s a great-looking movie.
But Annihilation really hits its stride at the point where lesser films jump the shark. There is a fantastic 20-minute or so mind-bending sequence of events toward the end of the film that will leave you glassy-eyed and scratching your head in wonder. I’m still not entirely sure what it all means, and am still picking at it in my mind. But I found myself thinking that if the whole movie was the quality of that climax, it totally would have been a full-pie on my list. As it is, it’s certainly a worthy watch for those craving smart, thought-provoking sci-fi.