James’s review published on Letterboxd:
I have to start by saying what an absolute travesty it is that international audiences (myself included) around the world have been robbed of the opportunity to see this in cinemas due to lack of studio faith. This is an insult to audience intelligence, a massive frustration for serious film enthusiasts and a worrisome prospect for talented filmmakers. Netflix once again becomes a last minute dumping ground for unwanted goods, but luckily this time it isn't down to poor quality.
To say I was excited for Annihilation is an understatement. Many reviews were making comparisons to the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, in particular Stalker, which is my favourite film of all time and Solaris, another deeply philosophical and cerebral science fiction. I was apprehensive about it being too derivative of these but aside from quite blatantly borrowing elements of plot from both, it manages to maintain uniqueness and originality.
The combination and contrast of the serene beauty of 'the shimmer' with elements of horror is perhaps what makes it distinct. John Carpenter's The Thing is evoked in the aberrations depicted, as well as some David Cronenberg style body horror thrown in for good measure. It borrows from various sources but never relies on its inspirations too much and boldy explores new territory. Writer/Director Alex Garland's adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's novel is an absorbing, deeply unsettling and erudite sci-fi.
I didn't like the over-reliance on CGI, it is required here of course as practical effects are not always feasible or cost effective but they looked disappointingly cheap on occasion. Perhaps more should have been left up to audience's imagination rather than actually showing anything at all, something that I really loved about last years It Comes At Night.
Performances are quite strong, Portman in particular and the all female cast of academics is a wise departure from the usual macho military fare. If it bleeds we can kill it, right?
The dialogue didn't always entirely come off as convincing and the few expositionary scenes undermine the atmosphere slightly, but it only did this when absolutely necessary and overall didn't become an issue.
Intellectual and challenging science fiction is still thriving despite lack of general interest or studio support, it will always find its audience. I really liked this, even though it doesn't come close to the limits of its ambition. It strikes the right balance between conventional accessibility and high art without ever compromising.