This week’s critical viewing comes in the form of Alex Garland’s excellent Annihilation. I only wish that it was showing in cinemas here in the UK, as my TV is nowhere near big enough to do it justice.
Annihilation is a science-fiction investigative thriller about a mysterious bubble, known as the ‘shimmer’ that has appeared around an area of land, causing death and mutation within. A group of scientists volunteer to enter the shimmer to find the cause.
Lena (Natalie Portman) is still grieving the apparent death of her soldier husband when he comes walking back through the door to their house. Almost immediately, he is taken extremely ill to a secret army facility, where Lena is told about the shimmer, and that her husband is the only person to make it out of there alive. The film begins with Lena being interrogated, apparently having come out of the shimmer after an expedition. It’s clear that things did not go well for the group she went with, raising a lot of active questions very early on: What happened? Why does she think she’s only been away for a few days when it’s actually been four months?
Following this, we are immediately invited to sympathise with Lena, with the loss, reappearance and subsequent near-death once again of her husband. Yet we also realise there is more to Lena’s story than we are told upfront, as she says that she ‘owes’ it to her husband to go on the expedition.
The shimmer is growing in size, threatening to destroy the surrounding environment, and eventually spreading to cities, wiping out civilization. This nicely sets up a theme of a desire for order; within the shimmer, chaos reigns, and life inside is far removed from the norm.
The tone of the film from the outset is tragic. We know that the expedition does not end well for the majority of the party, and each of the women who volunteer for the mission are ‘damaged’, as one character puts it. It is this that leads them to enter the shimmer, feeling that they have nothing left to go back to.