06 December 2020

‘Annihilation’ (Netflix)

in Bucharest, Romania
Annihilation - Poster Concept by Kyle V. James
Annihilation – Poster Concept by Kyle V. James

After mentioning Peter Watts earlier this week, I went back through his blog posts and found his review of the Annihilation movie adaptation. Because it was immediately available on Netflix, I watched it shortly after release and have been meaning to write a couple of thoughts about it. I have not read any of novels in this trilogy, so I cannot compare the result with the written original, as Peter Watts did.

The overall idea behind Annihilation sounds similar to Roadside Picnic, maybe even Greg Egan’s Teranesia, though I have not read either book yet. The movie does a nice job of setting up a mysterious, tense, even threatening atmosphere once the characters reach the alien zone where many disappeared before them. There is a constant sense that the group is being watched, that something is moving and closing in just off screen, out of their field of view.

Despite this, and various complaints from critics, I felt that the movie was not weird enough. The oddly shaped animals and strange plants are mostly recognizable, having added relatively minor random parts from other species. There is some emphasis on the human element – we get a bear with eerie human voice, in a scene that veers towards horror rather than sci-fi, and bushes that grow in the shapes of people – which could have been interpreted as an attempt by the unseen entity to communicate with the explorers, but the movie does not follow up on this idea in any meaningful way.

In a sense, the movie follows a familiar trope of horror films, where individuals get isolated from the main group to be taken out one by one by the hidden monster. I was somewhat disappointed seeing how in some situation these trained scientists questionable decisions that later led to their demise – a recurring theme in Alien: Covenant. The example that stood out was how they chose to stand guard during the night at ground level, when there was an elevated platform where they could have stayed together. Sure enough, the people on guard went missing until morning. Speaking of the Alien universe, another scene has worm-like-creatures burrowing through human guts while the man is in agony…

The ending was somewhat of a letdown as well, though not necessarily for the same reasons mentioned by Peter Watts. I felt much of the movie, but the ending in particular, was too derivative of other, more successful science-fiction works, such as Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris and Michael Crichton’s Sphere, which did better at raising interesting questions about human nature faced with something truly alien. As it stands, the movie Annihilation does little beside entertain us with colorful special effects.

My rating: 3.5

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