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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Film Review: Annihilation

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Future cult classic Annihilation is currently playing in theaters, and I urge everyone to go catch it before it is unfairly cut from circulation. Adapted from Jeff Vandermeer's hit novel of the same name, fans of mind-blowing and disturbing science fiction will have a lot to chew on with this film. If you have not seen Annihilation, I encourage you to stop reading this review and go see it and come back to this review later. There are minor spoilers to follow. This is not a 100% faithful adaptation, more of another artist’s reimagining of the same subject matter. In some ways it enhances the novel, wherein other ways it goes its own brave direction away from the novel. For instance, the ending of the film is almost completely different than the novel. I loved the ending of the novel, yet they somehow came up with an ending that is just as disturbing and just as earned. Both endings are just jaw-droppingly nightmarish and surreal. I think any viewers walking into this film unawares, thinking this will just be some normal sci-fi adventure film, will be in for quite a shock. Annihilation is a film full of fascinating ideas and concepts. The idea of cancer as a kind of beautiful deathwish of the organism. The obsession with black, blanked out humanoids, something it shares with Under the Skin. The self as alien. The Not-Human as Human. Annihilation is the direct descendant of mind twisting films like Videodrome and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Director Alex Garland showed a lot of promise with his first film Ex Machina, which I thought was a minor masterpiece. And with Annihilation, he delivers on that promise.

Annihilation is the latest in what I can only consider to be a second golden era of weird and dark science fiction ( the first wave I would consider to be during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s ). A preoccupation with themes dealing with doppelgangers, the subjective nature of reality, and the non-human/not us, are hallmarks of this second wave. Also, I would say, unlike such classic science fiction films like They Live or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, there seems to be no shock at the reveal of the hidden reality in these new films. It’s like we as a civilization has accepted reality and our definitions of ourselves as fluid and maybe even unknowable. Maybe this is a result of how prevalent the internet and social media has become in pretty much everyone’s life? We are alienated from interacting with living beings by social media, and the internet bombards us with unreal realities every day. With the new science fiction film, it’s more of a question of what to do now that we know we live in an unreal environment? What do we do when we look around and realize that our neighbors are as strange to us as any distant planet or star? Where do we go now that notions of truth and the normal have been shown to be false? Annihilation joins a group of films that include Under the Skin, Blade Runner 2049, Enemy, and Evolution. Abstract, unsettling, and mysterious, these new science fiction films ask difficult questions and do not attempt to deceive with fake Hollywood answers. I think we need to support films like these that are not supported by mainstream audiences. These films are important and may shine a light in these difficult times.