Meiosis: The Movie? The days have only been hard for Lena (Natalie Portman), a biology professor once a veteran in the Army. There, she met her husband, Kane (Oscar Issac). Kane, still active in the military, goes on a mission to which little info is divulged on. Whatever he went on, he’s never returned from—until he resurfaces roughly one year later in the presence of Lana.

However, something’s changed with Kane and his health is complicated. Both husband and wife are taken into a quarantined area outside of “Area X” for testing, and it is there that Lena discovers more about her spouse’s mission from Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Area X is dubbed “The Shimmer,” an area that is growing rapidly bigger and consuming everything it touches after striking a lighthouse. Those who have went in before have never come out, except for Kane. The source of The Shimmer has to be located, and a new expedition team, led by Lena and Ventress, is going in next. Will they come to regret it?

How does one follow up one of the more original films of the decade in Ex Machina? By being original again. OK, director and writer Alex Garland’s latest film in Annihilation is adapted from a novel, but marked changes were made from the pages to what’s on the silver screen. So once again, Garland brings something unique to filmgoers—that isn’t as satisfying as his debut—but absolutely worth supporting and viewing.

If his two films have only proved one thing (and they’ve proved more than that) with regards to Garland, it’s that he can craft a world and/or setting like no other, combining the serene with the sadistic. But, where his previous film was more confined, this one truly sees the director bring a world to life that is not to be forgotten anytime soon. The Shimmer is a psychedelic entity which seems comparable to taking psychedelic drugs. The minute the shimmery veil is seen and lifted for the first time, we as the audience are the expedition team: unnerved to go in and excited all the same. The score, co-composed by Geoff Barlow and Ben Wheatley, is equal parts unnerving and ethereal.

And it’s that duality that is one of the hearts of Annihilation. This Shimmer world is captivating and revolting, good and evil, full of life and death, and explainable and unexplained all at once. Duality is actually selling this a little short; ten people can take 10 different meanings out of Garland’s script. To (hopefully) leave nothing spoiled is to take an intentionally vague approach to describing this, though a lengthy conservation that describes what each woman is doing there on the mission gives a lot of context and is one theory yours truly is high on. Still, there are as many questions as answers when the end credits roll, which can be frustrating. While no one should want everything spoon-fed to them, there is a way of leaving things open for interpretation while providing some “sight lines” that offer more clarity.

The Shimmer and what occurs inside of it is its own character in and of itself. Honestly, it serves as the strongest character of Annihilation. Wonderful to see an all-female cast, but the realization is, they’re all sort of forgettable to the point that it debilitates the movie, even with definitive names unlike the novel they’re not given a ton to do in the script. Part of this is due to the way the narrative is framed—which works really well—but can be a little predictable pertaining to the fate of the expedition team. As such, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny, Gina Rodriguez, and Tessa Thompson don’t exactly give shoddy performances, but sleepy ones may be more apt.

The star of the show, billing-wise, is Portman. Her relationship with Oscar Issac is an unique one (Oscar’s character is one I’d like to see this movie built around). Yet compared to Issac’s, Portman pales in comparison. She doesn’t do a bad job, but like her supporting cast, her work can too border on sleepy in a few scenes. The setting is here in this film, but the characters aren’t exactly. Perhaps that is intentional? Who knows. However, to see Garland create not just one compelling character but three in his previous film and essentially make only one in this go-round despite having a bigger cast is disappointing.

There’s a lot to take in with Annihilation, an awe-inspiring world with multiple potential meanings,  but characters who don’t exactly make a viewer care about any of them. Nevertheless, there’s an undeniable imprint it leaves, much like those who venture into The Shimmer itself.


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