Annihilation ★★

With movies like these, so much of it hinges on the ending. Unfortunately, Annihilation fails to stick the landing.

Annihilation, based on the a book of the same name, stars Natalie Portman as Lena, an ex army biologist who teaches at a university. Her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), also a military man, has been away for 12 months on a covert operation, and Lena fears he has died. When he unexpectedly returns, he quickly becomes sick the two of them end up at a secret government facility that has been monitoring a phenomenon for three years. The phenomenon (referred to as the "Shimmer") is an every growing boundary around its origin, a lighthouse. Kane's mission had been into the shimmer, and he is the first person from any mission to return.

Motivated by her sick husband, Lena volunteers to join the next expedition. The mission is led by Dr. Ventress (Jenifer Jason Leigh) and three other members. All five are female scientists, each with a different specialty.

What plays out is a story with three elements. First, a mission to reach the lighthouse and then leave the Shimmer. This is a woman versus nature survival story. Second, trying to unravel the mystery behind the Shimmer. Third, the personal struggles of all five members of the expedition.

There are beautiful moments in the Shimmer, and terrifying ones. Alex Garland uses a few inventive techniques to convey scenes that obviously are easier to describe on a page than to portray on screen. Each of these moments are executed well, and the viewer can see how this is all building towards something. Each of the women have their own demons and each of them react to the alien environment in different ways. The movie builds intrigue the mystery begins to unravel.

In the end, the film had to resolve its three strains. First, the mission of survival. Second, the answer to the mystery, and third, resolving the personal struggles of the five women, most importantly Lena's. It fails on three counts. That does not mean it is all bad. There are certain things that are resolved, and the ending has a few twists and reserve twists, but these are secondary success next to a primary failure.

After reading positive descriptions of the film's depth and meaning, I have come to understand the beats of the plot, but as I dig deeper I still fail to grasp any deeper meaning. Lena is ultimately an stoic person who not particularly likable. Although some of the other members of the team are relatable, they are not generally likable. I never really cared about them which deflated any seen of danger. I was interested in the mystery, but the the resolution was unsatisfying.

Even the denouement of the film is problematic. At best, it is an empty ending and at worst, it is an endorsement of faith in science and/or aliens in a God-less universe.

Despite my appreciate the craft of the film, I did not enjoy it nor find much positive deeper meaning in it. I will add that I am starting to appreciate certain elements of the film more, but it is taking some time for that appreciation to develop.

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