Annihilation ★★

I like "Intelligent Science Fiction". You know, like Alex Garland's other Directorial effort 2014's EX MACHINA or Jeff Nichols’ involving 2016 film MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. These are the types of films that uses the backdrop of Science Fiction to delve deeper into character, concepts or ideas, leaving time for the audience to take it all in and to really think about what is being shown on the screen and to wrestle with the concepts brought forth. So, I was really excited when I found out the Garland would be helming a film of the first book in Jeff VanderMeer's SOUTHERN REACH trilogy, ANNIHILATION - a trippy sci-fi book series about an alien presence that starts tearing away at the very fabric of human existence. I was convinced that this marriage of source material and filmmaker would create another cinematic gem.

Boy, was I wrong.

ANNIHILATION fails in all the ways that these types of films could fail. It is self-indulgent, favors style over substance, mood over momentum and has long, long, loooong scenes of dialogue (or non-dialogue) that is supposed to convey a sense of dread and, for me, just made me want to yell at the screen "get on with it!"

ANNIHILATION tells the story of a group of women who comprise the 12th group of explorers entering "the shimmer" - an unknown phenomenon in a remote part of the US that is growing and will soon start engulfing populated areas. None of the other groups have returned (save for 1 soldier). This 12th group, led by the mysterious Dr. Ventres, tries to get at the heart of what the shimmer is and succeed where others failed. Once inside "the shimmer" the group must fight with their own nightmares and what makes them human.

Sounds like a really good premise for an intelligent Sci-Fi film doesn't it? Unfortunately, Director and Writer Garland is more interested in the sights, sounds and moods of "the shimmer" and fails to create any interesting characters - or circumstances - for the audience to follow.

Natalie Portman stars as Lena - a biologist (and former military) who's husband (the great Oscar Isaac) is the lone returning solider (though not all of him, mentally, has returned). The pairing of these two strong, interesting actors should have been enough to propel this film forward, but all they do is stare at each other and "not say" anything. They look at each other like something is wrong, but the never say or do anything. Compounding things is the weird portrayal of the weird Dr. Ventres by Jennifer Jason Leigh - an actress not known from shying away from weird. Her portrayal would have worked, I think, if she had some "normal" folks to play against - or if her character had some sort of climax, but she doesn't, she just sort of peters out. Joining these two are Tessa Thompson (losing the goodwill she earned in THOR:RAGNAROK) as a physicist that "has secrets" and Gina Rodriguez (channelling her inner Michelle Rodriguez) as a gung-ho "kick-ass" paramedic (you can guess how that is going to turn out). Only Tuva Novotny as scientist Cass Sheppard has anything approaching an interesting character, but she is on all too briefly.

Also wasted in this film is Benedict Wong (DOCTOR STRANGE) as the "Basil Exposition" of this film (explaining things to the audience) and David Gyasi (INTERSTELLAR) as a pseudo-love interest for Lena.

Maybe I'm just not "artsy" enough to enjoy this. If you are and you enjoy this, let me know what I missed. As it is, I have an early, leading contender for "Worst Film of 2018".

In the meantime, I'm going to rewatch EX MACHINA or MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, two intelligent Science Fiction films that work.

Letter Grade: C

2 stars (out of 5) and you can take that to the Bank(ofMarquis)

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