*WARNING: Minor Spoilers and Personal Opinions Ahead. Proceed with Caution*
Special effects have come along way since the Windows 98 screensavers, but damn it if they don’t stick with me. The Maze, with its subtle ambiguity, challenging you to keep watching in case there really is an end to the never ending search. Or The Ocean Floor, serving as a little slice of life with unique fish just living out their days in a Gateway monitor. Most of my time on the old desktop in the basement might have been spent on the Shrek 2 game I found at a thrift store, but when the mouse laid to rest for the night and the keys got a break from my Cheetos-encrusted fingers, I would just watch those magical screensavers until my eyes grew weary.
Annihilation is the Windows 98 screensaver for present-day Me. Directed and written for the screen by Alex Garland, Annihilation follows Lena (Natalie Portman), a professor of biology at Johns Hopkins. Her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) is a soldier sent to investigate altered land dubbed “The Shimmer”, where anyone sent it doesn’t come back. When Kane comes back and Lena notices he isn’t the same, she volunteers to accompany the group of scientists assigned to enter “The Shimmer” and find out what the hell is going on.
On the surface, this is pretty standard Sci-Fi fare. Meteor hits Earth. Meteor carries alien qualities. Alien qualities start changing the Earth. Humans like the Earth the way it is. Humans try and stop it. And yet, the film fills every possible blank in that formula with a far weirder species of cinema. Garland’s script feels written with big intentions of displaying the grandest visuals possible. The film calls for the viewer’s full vision as it swings from refracted barriers to the gnarliest of DNA-revamped creatures. It’s an illustrated feast that purposefully indulges too far, bringing on the tense nightmares that await our not-so-merry band of researchers. While the script occasionally falls short in its dialogue, the main cast of scientists (including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, and Natalie Portman’s Lena) bring intense, driven performances that all have just enough personal identity to stand distinct and impactful.
While everyone is bringing their A-game, Natalie Portman is the star of the show. Her character’s arc somehow touches on self destruction, lost love, and genetically changed alligators without skipping a beat. Lena’s path is painful and arresting. Alex Garland is able to amplify this performance with an eerie, restive atmosphere that builds into a haunting piece of Sci Fi.
Annihilation is a film I can’t shake, my heart still panting from the horrors of The Shimmer. I can’t decide if this movie is as good as Garland’s last, Ex Machina, but his most recent work brings on more striking visuals that have taken over the Windows 98 screensaver hole in my heart, and that’s a heavy feat.
Annihilation gets a soft 8 out of 10.