Sunday, December 9, 2018

REVIEW: Annihilation (live action movie)

Hey, I'm still here and still writing reviews! I'm just extremely slow about it anymore.

Here's a review for something I watched after getting back from my vacation. Annihilation is a science fiction movie based on the book of the same title by Jeff Vandermeer.


Lena is a former U.S. Army soldier who has long since quit that life and is now a biology professor. She met her husband while they were in the military, and he's still active duty. At the start of the movie, Lena is in some kind of quarantine and is being questioned. Flashbacks show that, 12 months after her husband left on a secret mission and was presumably killed in action, he suddenly reappears outside their bedroom. He seems strange and confused, and soon after his reappearance he begins to experience massive organ failure.

Lena then learns that her husband's mission involved entering something the people who study it call "the Shimmer," an area of land that was thankfully mostly uninhabited before it was blocked off and taken over by an odd, shimmery wall. Unfortunately, the wall is steadily expanding, and not one member of any of the past exploratory missions has made it back...except for Lena's husband.

Lena gets herself accepted to the next exploratory mission, one of the few composed entirely of women and entirely of scientists rather than military. Since she can't do anything for her husband outside the Shimmer, Lena believes she owes it to him to find out what he saw and what caused it all.

I read the book this movie was based on almost 10 months ago, planning to see the movie in theaters. I waited and waited and finally realized it wasn't going to show in my local theater. I then waited for it to pop up in Netflix's (U.S.) catalog. Still no go. When I saw the movie on a bargain shelf, I figured it was now or never.

I wasn't a huge fan of the book, which was strange, underwhelming, and featured lots of mystery with no answers. I was intrigued enough to read the second book, but since that, too, contained more questions than answers, and since reviews indicated that the final book would be more of the same, I decided to quit there. I still wanted to see the movie, but I was a little worried that all it'd add were some visually stunning scenes to the mess.

Thankfully, although the movie kept quite a few elements from the book, like the all-woman team, a few oddly mutated things, and the lighthouse destination, it mostly went in its own direction, even to the point of tweaking the main character's personality (she came across as much more of an odd loner in the book than she did in the movie). I felt the book had more intriguing mysteries, but also that the movie, which actually went somewhere with its mysteries, was better overall.

And hey, in the movie everyone had names. Yay for names!

Of course, since so many things were tweaked or changed, I also didn't know what to expect. There were a couple scenes that were too gory for me: some video footage that, unfortunately, is important to the story and should be watched even though it's disturbing, and the final moments of a particularly gruesome animal attack. There were also some really pretty moments, as well. My favorites were the deer things and the human-shaped plants. I will say that it was a little hard to settle down and really enjoy the pretty things when I kept expecting one of the area's horrible things to suddenly make an appearance.

I was curious to see whether the lighthouse portion would follow the book or go its own way, and it definitely did more of the latter, although there were moments that reminded me of the tower (tunnel?) in the book. I'm not sure I liked the movie's ending - the way things worked out struck me as too easy considering the many missions that had previously been thrown at this place - but it was definitely a relief to be given a proper ending.


  1. I didn’t care for the movie very much. It was typically Hollywood— special effects over story and the compulsion to cap it off at the end. When I previously commented on the book, I mentioned The Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers and movie made from it, Stalker, by Andrei Tarkovsky as possible inspirations for Annihilation. After rewatching the movie, I think The Stalker may have been the inspiration for Annihilation, rather than The Roadside Picnic, which Tarkovsky substantially altered in making the movie.

    I feel the Stalker is a much better movie than Annihilation, though some people find it overly long and boring. The Stalker was made in 1979, on a budget that didn’t permit sophisticated special effects, and so it had to be carried by acting and the tone of the story. The Roadside Picnic was a well known story in the Soviet Union, so there is very little explanation for what is going on in The Stalker. For this reason, it’s better to read the book first, although it is not necessary.

    In both stories, the Earth is visited by unseen aliens, who stay for a few days and leave. Their presence has completely altered the physical nature of the areas they’ve visited and they’ve left behind mysterious artifacts. A scientist in the book compares the visit to a Roadside Picnic, where the picnickers have left behind trash which is puzzled over by the visiting ants.

    The affected areas are dangerous and most people entering the zone never return and those that do, are subtly changed. The government eventually walls off the area, after several unsuccessful attempts to investigate the area.

    A few people known as Stalkers have learned how to enter into and survive in the zones. In the movie a small group of people have contracted a Stalker to lead them into the zone. who are searching for the “Room” which will grant one’s innermost wishes.

    If you are interested, I can loan you a copy of the novel and a DVD. The movie has been recently remastered by Criterion Films, so it may differ from my DVD.

    1. I'll wait on The Stalker for now, but I just checked and it should be easy enough to get The Roadside Picnic via interlibrary loan. I'll give it a shot.

  2. Tarkovsky took the background and premise of The Roadside Picnic when he made Stalker, but the two stories are quite different. The Stalker is most similar to Annihilation, the other less so.