Annihilation ★★★★

From outer space a meteor crashes into a lighthouse. Several years later the land around the lighthouse is being slowly swallowed by the Shimmer, an alien veil creeping across the world, like a cross between a Monet painting and a vertical oil slick in rainwater. Many have gone in but no answers have come out, but can Natalie Portman's Lena prevail where all before have fallen?

In subject matter and in tone Annihilation is like a cross between Stalker (1979) and The Thing (1982), with themes of a zone where reality is not what it is in the rest of the world, and of rapidly mutating biology that poses a threat to all life in an atmosphere of paranoid dread and mystery. Self-destruction is another key motif, with all the team members for this mission we follow chosen by Jennifer Jason-Leigh's Dr. Ventress seemingly because they were damaged in some way by their own hand. JJL seems to be channeling her character of Allegra from eXistenZ (1999) in her monotone delivery, and there is a cold, Cronenbergian feel to Annihilation, that probably explained why the studio got cold feet and dumped it onto Netflix, as this is challenging rather than comforting entertainment.

Many have cited cancer as the main metaphor for the Shimmer – the mutation of cells that kills the host but on a planetary scale. This seems valid, but I can perhaps offer an alternative interpretation: that of nuclear devastation. The definition of the word "annihilation" in physics means the conversion of matter into energy, and that to me explains the ending of the film more so than any biological one. The mutated world inside the Shimmer also seems to clearly evoke images of post-catastrophe Fukushima or Pripyat, and the sickness of radiation also causes aggressive forms of cancer and mutation at the DNA level, below the cell, the very primordial building blocks of life. This is not a film that provides easy answers, but much to chew on conceptually. From a technical perspective Annihilation is also very impressive, with the world looking both familiar and alien, some horrifying creature effects and a soundtrack that sounds like Burial or Vindsval from Blut Aus Nord going mad on some pitch-bent analogue synth. I look forward to watching this again once it's sunk in.

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