Annihilation ★★★★

It’s perhaps fitting for a story about free-flowing DNA that Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel combines so many other genre classics into something new and fascinating. Biologist/ex-soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) is finally accepting that her MIA soldier husband (Oscar Issac) is dead when he shows up unannounced in their home. But something is … off about him, and it’s connected to a mysterious “shimmer” that is slowly engulfing more and more area. The bulk of the story follows Lena on a research expedition with four other women (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny), and it’s wonderful that the team’s demographics are so matter-of-fact. Garland finds inspiration in everything from the thinky sci-fi of Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey to 10 Little Indians-esque monster features like Alien and The Thing—and while some of the “inspiration” feels dangerously close to theft, some of the images and concepts here are indelible. The character and philosophical underpinnings are perhaps too thinly developed in exploring what it means to wish for a whole new you, but that still leaves a spectacle that’s generally wondrous to behold.