Jenna Ipcar’s review published on Letterboxd:
Read my full review on Back Row!.
I came for Stalker but I got Solaris. Except instead of the humans being an invading force whose mere presence irrevocably disrupts the delicate ecosystem of an alien planet, in Annihilation it's the aliens disrupting our planet with their gosh darn 'shimmer.' It's not malicious, it's not conscious, it just is. As if breathing and footprints in the sand had the same effect as dragging the your boat through a coral reef. It knows not what it does.
This was largely a what-if concept movie, but it did touch upon the notion of flaws. The problem with setting up a suicide mission is that you'll never assemble the strongest team. Every character eventually succumbs to their own personal flaws in the shimmer – whether they started out with physical or mental scars, the shimmer seems to exacerbate these weaknesses. Tuva Novotny's fear of loss and desire to protect causes her to throw herself in harms way unnecessarily. Gina Rodriguez, ex-alcoholic, loses her mind first. Tessa Thompson's character is more vulnerable to refraction through her physical scars. Jennifer Jason Leigh's cancer refracts the shimmer and it immolates her from the inside outside. Natalie Portman, an otherwise rather able-bodied specimen, makes it to the lighthouse only to be confronted by her two weaknesses: guilt and then mortality.
The 'annihilation' that Leigh speaks of is simply just the pointlessness of our concept of individuality. There is no meaning to your existence, you're just a series of pre-programed biological functions, no different from the shimmer itself. The double she encounters is her own morality. You can either make your own meaning and let it defeat you, define your life through a series of other roadblocks to distract yourself, or you can accept death.
Yet that doesn't mean you can't take joy and love at face value. Oscar Isaac clearly gets as far as his wife does, but then gives up when faced with the horror of himself. Its mentioned after Novotny dies, the horror of the idea that she becomes the bear but in her only her last moments of pain and suffering. Yet Isaac's dying wish to tell his wife he loves her, a wish that manages to be imprinted and carried over outside of the shimmer. At the end his doppelgänger arrives to simply give Portman a hug. It may be pointless, but it's not meaningless.
I liked the concept of this movie, but I didn’t love the direction. The flashbacks added nothing except prolonging mystery in place of actual character development. The dialogue felt flat, there were too many cuts back to elongating the same bedroom scenes; had they shown a little more variety it would have helped to flesh the characters out. There's not much about anybody who isn't Oscar Isaac or Natalie Portman in general – though I can allow it a degree, seeing as these are all people thrown together so what would they really know about each other anyhow.
I also found the constant haze filters outside of the shimmer visually frustrating. But inside of the shimmer I loved how much everything... shimmered. But it was a little too CGIed to feel menacing the way the setting of, say, Stalker did. (Not that I’d expect a full Stalker reproduction considering how the entire cast died from shooting in those toxic locations but... ) There's plenty of beauty and mystery in nature, they could have just worked with a particular location... though perhaps there wasn't the budget. I loved the gator and I loved the bear. But the most terrifying stuff to me was inside of the lighthouse. That stalagmite-vine hole in the floor will haunt me forever. But inside of it it felt a little too Alien. Black and slick and too perfect. Nature is more intriguing when it looks messy.
The oil-slick double scared the shit out of me though. The concept of something faceless you cannot read and yet knows your every movement is just chilling to me. Then when it does morph into a doppelgänger its just as unsettling. I wonder perhaps if Isaac's doppelgänger is actually the perfect being? I don't just mean looks (*winks to the crowd*), but by having the ability to refract off of those around him he seems to heal himself from the total organ failure that his original was dying from. I wish he and Portman had both subtly merged together into one being after the final hug, body horror style. It would have added that last touch of symbolism I really wanted.
At the end of the day, I think Solaris had the more interesting angle on the concept, and a more interesting commentary on human selfishness. When the invading force is literally alien, it's too open to your own projections and wild interpretations. Which isn't bad, but it's just a bit too broad to anchor anywhere. For what it is though, Annihilation was engaging and creepy – yet a little more horror-concept than truly enlightening sci-fi to me.
TL;DR girl why the hell you cheat on Oscar Isaac??????? you crazy