Annihilation is a rare film, and Alex Garland is a rare writer/director (not forgetting the source material’s author in Annihilation’s case; Jeff VanderMeer). He is the only person I can think of that has captured the sci-fi trends that Hollywood has missed in the last 20 years.
There have been some fantastic short films created by extremely talented filmmakers on platforms like Vimeo, and there have also been some award winning narrations in video games such as BioShock and The Last of Us. Hollywood’s default response to this overnight or cult success is to adapt it directly to the big screen. Alex Garland manages to channel inspiration from these other mediums in to unique and original pieces of work, capturing the same lightning in a bottle.
Annihilation is a giant step in this direction for sci-fi, combining themes from the 2013 video game The Last of Us, Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 Russian film Stalker, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival and even Francis Ford Coppola Apocalypse Now. The looming journey to the lighthouse at the centre of “The Shimmer” had parallels to finding Colonel Kurtz up river with PBR Street Gang. There’s also the trippy element of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but which sci-fi movie doesn’t owe a debt to that masterpiece. It’s a film that left me happily confused at times and suspended all of my disbelief for the full 115 minutes.
I confess, I did watch this on Netflix and not in the cinema. I was anticipating this being a great movie until the news broke that it would be a Netflix release. That lowered my expectations somewhat, given the recent poor track record of Netflix-produced films. However, after reading around on the reasoning behind this distribution method it seemed that it was because of nervous investors wanting to hedge their bets rather than the quality of the finished product. It seemed that they felt it was too cerebral for mainstream audiences, but this is the gap that Hollywood has been so risk-averse to for far too long. Only someone like Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) could step in to this territory, but he has a catch-22 covered with a proven track record on his side to get the funding.
I absolutely loved Annihilation will give it a few more viewings in the near future, and am confident that it will still captivate me in the same way as the first.