Annihilation: What You Need To Know
After the success of 2014 sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, there was considerable anticipation when it was announced that its director's next film would be an adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's cerebral sci-fi novel Annihilation.
Paramount secured the rights and installed their man in the director's chair, but as a mooted release date approached and test screenings drew mixed reactions from audiences, the studio began to worry that the film was too intellectually complex and requested changes, including replacing the film's somewhat ambiguous ending.
The film's producers - who had retained final cut privilege on the project - refused, leading to standoff between them and the studio. As a result, the film received only a limited cinematic release in North America and China, while for the rest of the world – including the UK – the film instead premiered on streaming service Netflix, who snapped up the distribution rights.
For non-subscribers in the UK, then, next week represents the first chance to get a look at Annihilation when the movie makes its arrival in stores on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K on Monday (April 1st). Here's everything you need to know...
Who's in it?
Natalie Portman stars alongside a cast which includes Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Benedict Wong, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriquez, David Gyasi, Tuva Novotny and Sonoya Mizuno.
And who's directing?
Alex Garland, who made his name as author of novels such as The Beach, later adapted for the big screen by Danny Boyle, before turning his hand to directing and making his feature-length debut in 2014 with Ex Machina.
What's the plot?
Portman stars as Lena, a former soldier and a professor of cellular biology who we first meet while she is being interrogated by two men in hazmat suits. Lena is being asked to explain what happened on a recent expedition to investigate the site of a meteor crash, where every other member of her expedition team has gone missing.
Lena tells them about her husband, Kane (Isaac), another scientist who was sent on a covert mission, only to return 12 months later with no memory of where he had been or why. When Kane suddenly begins to vomit blood, Lena calls an ambulance, but before they reach the hospital they are intercepted by a team of soldiers and sedated. When Lena awakes she finds herself in a secret facility with Dr. Ventress (Leigh), who explains that Kane's mission was to investigate a strange phenomenon that has emerged around the site where a meteor crashed into a forest near a lighthouse.
Known as 'the shimmer', the strange phenomenon manifests as a wall of iridescent light surrounding the crash site. Ventress explains that Kane's mission was one of several expeditions beyond the shimmer wall, and that so far Kane is the only person who has returned. Ventress tells Lena that she is planning another expedition, this time including herself as well as a physicist, Josie (Thompson), a geomorphologist named Cassie (Novotny) and a paramedic named Josie (Rodriguez). Lena volunteers to join the expedition, hoping that she might discover something that will help Kane recover.
On entering the zone inside the shimmer, the team suddenly awake inside their tents, where they realise they have already been for several weeks, although none of them can remember anything after passing through the shimmer's perimeter. Lena finds several plant species growing from a single stem, and after Cassie is rescued from attack by an alligator, Lena is stunned to discover that the creature has somehow become hybridised with a shark. The team eventually realising that the shimmer is effectively refracting – or scrambling - everything from their communications equipment to the DNA of living things.
While some of the team members want to turn back before they themselves start to become affected, Lena helps Ventress persuade the others that they should head to the lighthouse to investigate. On discovering an abandoned building they find a video tape featuring Kane, who is documenting the body of one of his dead teammates, and which clearly shows the corpse's intestines slithering around inside his body.
Lena suspects there is more to Ventress' motives than she will admit, and when she reaches the lighthouse and discovers a second tape recording which also features Kane, things rapidly begin to get even stranger.
Does it deliver?
The answer to that really depends on what you want from a sci-fi film. When you consider that nine out of the ten highest-grossing sci-fi movies in history are from just three movie franchises - namely Star Wars, Transformers and Jurassic Park (the exception being James Cameron's Avatar) – it's easy to see why film studios are sometimes hesitant to support movies that don't follow a popular formula. But despite the film's limited cinematic release, Annihilation still managed to claw back most of its $40m budget – an outcome that may leave Paramount's executives lamenting what might have been.
Few would argue against the idea that more cerebral sci-fi films such as Blade Runner or 2001: A Space Odyssey are vital contributions to the genre, but both were widely panned by critics and misunderstood by audiences when they were first released, only attaining their cult status much later. Whether Annihilation will find itself in this category in years to come, only time will tell, but Garland's film is an imaginative and thought-provoking one that is not only visually stunning, but also deserves credit for being brave enough to go against the grain.
Annihilation is available in stores from Monday April 1st