This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Jim’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I really wanted to love Annihilation but simply couldn’t bring myself to become one with the collective consciousness. The cast perform well together, the visuals are harmonious and generally pleasing (barring the occasionally awful lighting) and the soundtrack does some truly alien stuff, but by God I found the script to be absolutely rotten.
I think Josie’s final scene in the garden sums up the film’s writing issues neatly. We see her sitting peacefully among the plants, no longer protected by her glasses or her gun or her hard-wearing fibres. Nice. The film up until this point has gone to great pains to imply that The Shimmer’s role is to facilitate Earth’s assimilation; our instrumentality into a single entity. We know this is Josie’s return to nature. The film then has Josie and Lena talk-aloud what we’ve just seen. Josie wants to live in peace with nature. Okay. Then we see Josie literally becoming nature. Then Lena remarks that Josie is mutating. Then we see Josie mutate. Then we see some nature that looks like people. Then Lena verifies that yes, Josie has literally turned into nature. Things are hinted, then shown, then told, then explained, then explicitly affirmed and re-affirmed. It’s too much. Garland is violently throttling us twenty minutes after the point was already laboured to extinction. He’s unable to trust us with our own eyes.
All of the above could have been conveyed with zero dialogue and only audio-visual cues. That’s exactly what the excellent finale does, and it’s easily the high point of the film (I’m a sucker for dodgy-but-imaginative 3DFX these days). More of that please. There are many other examples throughout the film that fall into the same trap of treating the audience like dafties and eroding The Shimmer’s technicolour aura of mystery through blunt exposition and/or literal visuals.
It’s cliche, but less is more. Thought and feeling can be achieved with the most economical of cinematic language - just ask Stalker, this film’s good auld grandpa. I really didn’t want to bring up Stalker, but I have to admit I spent a lot of this film thinking about how much I love Stalker. Please watch Stalker.