'Annihilation': A thrilling and unsettling sci-fi adventure

 This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Jennifer Jason Leigh in a scene from "Annihilation." (Paramount Pictures/Skydance via AP)

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Jennifer Jason Leigh in a scene from "Annihilation." (Paramount Pictures/Skydance via AP)

On Friday Feb. 23, Paramount Pictures captivated audiences around the nation by unleashing their science fiction thriller “Annihilation,” leaving viewers unnerved and questioning the biological structure of the world around them. The motion picture, which is written and directed by Alex Garland, adopted the plot of Jeff VanderMeer’s popular science fiction novel under the same name. The film stars Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Lee, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny.

Garland’s take on “Annihilation” carries over a sense of uneasiness and trepidation that fans of the novel will be familiar with. The plot begins with the interrogation of cellular biologist Lena (Portman), who is the only returner from an expedition into “Area X.” The area, which has been quarantined by the government, is a patch of wilderness that is encompassed by an inexplicable shimmer of light. As the story continues, Lena recounts various events from before and during the expedition. The scientists interrogating Lena slowly discover more information about the bizarre shimmer, which helps build suspense as the story goes on. The bulk of the film is spent following a group of female scientists deeper into the wilderness beyond the shimmer. Viewers are kept on the edge of their seat as the party encounters increasingly abnormal wildlife as they aim to reach the source of this strange occurrence.

The area where the film excels is in its brilliantly artistic scenery including beautiful cross-bred flowers and horrifying creatures. Garland also does an excellent job at building suspense through Lena’s frequent flashbacks and subtle clues as to the danger that lies ahead. The flashbacks successfully illustrate the immense change in Lena’s character throughout the film. For a film that is so scientifically complex, “Annihilation” does a fantastic job at tying everything together for the conclusion. Ultimately, the thriller will leave viewers with an unsettled yet satisfied feeling after walking out of the theater.  

The movie’s production company Paramount faced an internal conflict at the beginning of the “Annihilation” release period. Based on the initial unenthusiastic test-screening results of the film, Paramount investor David Ellison insisted that the film be changed to suit a wider audience. He was concerned the complexity of the film was leading to negative test-screening results. Ultimately, producer Scott Rudin decided to disregard Ellison’s concerns and keep the film as it was. This conflict, however, resulted in a deal with Netflix to handle the international distribution of the film. Paramount was left to handle the release in exclusively the United States and China. “Annihilation” will be released internationally on Netflix on March 12.

Initial reception for the movie has been positive. On Friday, the film’s opening day, it made $3.9 million in box office revenue. It is projected to make around $10-12 million during its opening weekend. “Annihilation” has also received favorable reviews from both critics and fans on popular movie review websites such as rottentomatoes.com and metacritic.com. On Rotten Tomatoes the film received an average rating of 7.6 out of 10 with an audience approval rating of 87 percent. Movie reviewers from Metacritic gave the film an average score of 80 out of 100. “It’s about self-destruction, evolution, biology, co-dependence, and that which scares us the most – that we can no longer trust our own bodies. It’s meant to linger in your mind and haunt your dreams. In this recent wave of sci-fi films, it’s one of the best,” said film critic Brian Tallerico in his review on RogerEbert.com in which he gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4.

“Annihilation” is currently out now in theaters across the United States. It will also be internationally released in about two weeks on Netflix.


Matthew Souvigney is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.souvigney@uconn.edu.