Alex Garland's ambitious follow-up to Ex Machina is one of the finest science fiction films of the last five years – what a shame UK film fans will only get to see it on the small screen
“And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees and changing leaves,” writes Virginia Woolf in her novel, To the Lighthouse. Meditations on time, nature, and life itself, as well as a literal lighthouse, form the core of Alex Garland’s latest science fiction offering, Annihilation.
After her husband (Oscar Isaac) mysteriously returns from being missing in action and becomes violently ill, biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) is taken away to a secret facility. There she learns about the Shimmer, an expanding dimension resembling a soap bubble, that is originating from a lighthouse. No one has ever returned after entering the Shimmer – that is except Lena’s husband. Hoping to find an answer to his illness, Lena joins a new team of scientists who are entering the dimension to seek some answers about what happens inside the dimension and what lurks within the lighthouse.
While Annihilation isn’t a sequel to Alex Garland’s debut film, 2014's Ex Machina, it’s a spiritual follow-up that’s bigger in scope. The film is conscious of the genre it’s working in and there are ample references to the body horror of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, and to the philosophical sci-fi of Under the Skin and Arrival. Despite these genre touchstones, Annihilation is brilliantly refreshing in its nightmarish scenario. As the team venture further into the Shimmer, they are attacked from all sides: from the grotesque mutations prowling the woods to their slipping grasp of reality, time, and themselves.
Annihilation is an ambitious and intellectual film that matches its rich themes of environmentalism, memory, and self-destruction with visceral horror and an emotional sucker punch of an ending. It’s not an easy film and that’s likely the reason why it’s gone direct-to-Netflix rather than receive a theatrical cinema release in the UK. And what a shame it has: it’s easily one of the best science fiction films of the last five years.
Annihilation is screening on Netflix now