ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Well, somebody saw “Arrival” back in 2016. Then somebody read a book called “Annihilation.” Finally, that somebody was like “I can make a movie just like ‘Arrival’ and put in my own mind tripping ideas!” Well, somebody certainly tried. They weren't particularly successful.
“Annihilation” provides audiences with an interesting, beautiful, and at times, terrifying world filled with some good moments of tension, but it is ultimately hampered by forgettable characters, lifeless plotting, grating music, occasional bad lighting, and a final act that fails to live up to its good mysteries, coming across as merely pretentious in the end.
The film revolves around a mysterious force referred to as the “The Shimmer”, an ever-growing, rainbow-colored barrier. Once someone crosses it, they don’t seem to return. However, one soldier does manage to return in a sickly state, further hindered by a sense of amnesia. The wife of this soldier, a professor of biology, teams up with a group of female scientists to enter the “The Shimmer” and investigate its purpose, which seems to involve genetic mutations by refracting DNA.
Much like “Arrival”, the mystery of what the visiting force wants is the hook for the audience and is the film’s best asset. The effects of “The Shimmer” occur on a deep biological level to all life that is within it or any that enter it. The results range from the beauty of a dream to the terror of one’s worst nightmares. What is it? Why is it here? The film without a doubt keeps you interested to see where it goes. The “success” of that I will touch on later.
With visual beauty comes some admittedly good special and visual effects, even if a lot of it is clearly computer animation. The environment is still interesting to study despite that though. The film also does have two really effective, white-knuckle moments of tension. For one, easily the most disturbing found footage scene I have ever seen in a movie to this date. The second scene was a confrontation with a particularly disturbing creature.
Natalie Portman frontlines the cast of the film and does an okay job with her performance. Her character is driven by a need for redemption after an affair with her husband (a pretty pointless subplot honestly). It doesn’t particularly make her character interesting, but at least she is given some kind of essence.
Now on to the problems, which sucker is filled with. Regarding characters, everyone that is not Natalie Portman is completely boring and lacking in development. You simply do not care for a single person in the film. Honestly, not even Portman. They all seem to simply be a means to an end. That end, I suppose, is the film’s message. I will get that disappointment in a second. The performances of these “characters” are mostly serviceable. However, one actress in particular was downright bad. Jennifer Jason Leigh gives an awful performance as the team leader. From beginning to end, she is completely monotone and devoid of life. I could accept this behavior if it occurred later on as an effect of the “The Shimmer”, but she starts off that way. She looks like she would rather be just about anywhere else.
Perhaps, I can’t blame them. The dialog isn’t praiseworthy either. Mostly, it was just boring monotone talk. Either that or the dialog is very much there just to force feed the film’s science and message building upon the audience. Heck, the filmmakers should have just walked on camera and explained why they think their movie idea is so cool and trippy and just get it all over with.
The whole film is just overly bleak. It is intentionally cold and zapped of energy and emotion. “Arrival” was cold and had that “just woke up on a crappy Monday morning” vide to it, but there was at least an emotional element to it. That film started with a kid dying of cancer. Bleak? Yes. Emotionally effective? Even more so. This has nothing like that. I guess the affair of Portman’s marriage but.....I didn’t care about her marriage. They hug in bed and have sassy talk. That’s it. Blah. My point is: what is the deal with this style? Just because your movie is slow, bleak, and devoid of charisma doesn’t mean your movie is intelligent. It just means your audience is more likely going to mirror that effect and care less about what you have to offer. I got nothing against depressing stuff. I prefer dark, serious material. However, this is just feels forced.
The movie’s visual look is overall fine. That is when you can see things. This film really had a lighting problem every now and then. Granted, “Aliens vs Predator: Requiem” is still worse lit thing ever, but there were a number of times where I was begging for someone, anyone to pull out a flashlight.
The soundtrack had some elements that worked well with the visuals, but at times the music was just drowning noise. This particularly applies to the end credits. Seriously, if you wish to see this after I am done shredding it, please vacate the theater once the credits start. Otherwise, you will be subjected to a droning “pulse” (not music) that just gets louder...and louder...AND LOUDER the longer you stay. Guys, at times there is fine line between artsy and just being obnoxious.
Speaking of obnoxious, what was the point of the film? After 3/4ths of cold, but admittedly interesting buildup, the audience reaches the climax just so the filmmakers can get all trippy and I guess reveal a message of some kind. I won’t spoil what happens, but it all amounts to nothing. The end result is probably designed to be open-ended and is meant for quote on quote “smart people”, but honestly it was just pretentious. I don’t like using that word. I rarely do. Sorry, but the ending was just cryptic nonsense. You can think about it all day if you wish, but all I was thinking was “well it’s over”. I have no problem with a film making me think. I welcome it. “Arrival” did that. I left that film not sure what to think either. However, the difference was that I actually CARED enough to think what about it. I just didn’t care about anything in “Annihilation”.
All in all, “Annihilation” was disappointing. I knew early on with the cold, lifeless character “setup” that things were going to be mixed. However, I stayed hooked by the mystery. Then even that built up into a big pile of nothing. Is it awful? No. It has good merits as I mentioned. Is it worth seeing? Well, to quote the film itself: “I don’t know”. No joke, that is literally the only quote I take away from the film. The whole story is told in flashback (a choice that spoils some of the characters’ fates right off the bat by the way) and all Portman can say when asked about her story is: “I don’t know”. That actually makes sense. That sums up the whole movie. What was the point? I don’t know. I don’t think the filmmakers know either.