By now, Annihilation is well known for having made an inauspicious debut on Netflix after Paramount, the studio behind its production, declined to send it to theaters. While it’s a shame that this route was chosen, as its visuals alone demand a theatrical experience, I can understand why, because Annihilation is a challenging work. Alex Garland, writer/director of the similarly challenging Ex Machina, and screenwriter of the 28 Days Later series and Dredd, has concocted a wild hybrid of B-movie monstrousness married to a Kubrick-esque mind-fuck a la 2001: A Space Odyssey. Take that, and add Annihilation's unsettling ending, which can sometimes be a death knell on box office, as audiences like their conclusions both happy and easy to comprehend, and its home on Netflix makes more and more sense.
Another reason Annihilation may be so well known: it’s all-female cast, led by Natalie Portman but supported by the likes of Tessa Thompson and the always wonderful Jennifer Jason Leigh. In fact, the presence of men figure rarely into the plot, except in the form of Oscar Isaac, whose reappearance after being thought dead is the direct catalyst for Portman’s Lena stepping directly into the mysterious world the film calls The Shimmer. If there’s a specific reason for the all-female cast, Garland doesn’t use Annihilation to present it in any broad manner, but of course the viewer can determine the implications of this choice on their own. One thing is for sure: in this particular world, it’s the women who are getting shit done.
Annihilation’s visuals are its biggest selling points, from its use of CGI to create mutants animals to the production design featuring the design of flowers arranged in humanoid shapes, like living statues existing within a botanical garden. But the visuals don’t just start and stop at wonder — especially during the ending, as Lena gets closer to solving the mystery of The Shimmer, the sights she sees maintain the wonder but up the creep factor significantly.
Annihilation requires more than one viewing to fully appreciate its scope, to begin unearthing the true mystery of The Shimmer, and to catch all the subtleties Garlan hid throughout, especially within the confines of the framing device used to propel the story forward. It’s daring, well acted, visually aweing, and again, challenging. You should be absolutely ready for something beyond a simple sci-fi romp should you take your own trip into The Shimmer.