Friday, 23 February 2018

Film Review: "Annihilation" (2018).

"Fear What's Inside." This is Annihilation. This science fiction psychological horror film written and directed by Alex Garland, based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. The film centres on biologist and former soldier Lena is shocked when her missing husband comes home near death from a top-secret mission into The Shimmer, a mysterious quarantine zone no one has ever returned from. Now, Lena and her elite team must enter a beautiful, deadly world of mutated landscapes and creatures, to discover how to stop the growing phenomenon that threatens all life on Earth.

In March 2014, it was announced that Paramount Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions had acquired the film rights to Annihilation, the first novel in Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy. In May 2015, Garland was hired to adapt and direct the film. Garland revealed to Creative Screenwriting that his adaptation was necessarily based on only the first novel in the trilogy. Garland did not read the other two books when they arrived, as he was concerned he would need to revise his script. Others informed him of the elements of the books, and he expressed surprise at some of the correlations. Garland further commented that he decided not to reread the novel. Instead, he decided to adapt it "like a dream of the book." Rather than book-referenced screenwriting with the intention of capturing the "dreamlike nature" and tone of his experience reading VanderMeer's novel, "an adaptation which was a memory of the book." Rather than trying to directly adapt the book Garland deliberately took the story in his own direction, with VanderMeer’s permission. After viewing an early cut of the film, VanderMeer called it "surreal", and compared it with 2001: A Space Odyssey"It’s actually more surreal than the novel... There are a couple places where I was like, 'I might need an anchor here.' The ending is so mind-blowing and in some ways different from the book that it seems to be the kind of ending that, like '2001' or something like that, people will be talking about around the watercooler for years. Visually, it’s amazing. I must say that and that’s all I probably should say." He further added: "I can tell you it’s mind-blowing, surreal, extremely beautiful, extremely horrific, and it was so tense that our bodies felt sore and beat-up afterwards." In regards to the adaptation, he commented: "The first thing I realized is that even though Alex Garland says he’s not an auteur, he is an auteur,” VanderMeer told The Watch. “My expectation was to not have anything to do with the movie and that’s the actual fact. He wrote the script and he was kind enough to keep me in the loop during every part of the process, but that wasn’t for me to put my two cents in, basically. It was just so I would know what was going on."

Natalie Portman soon entered into talks to star in the film. Julianne Moore and Tilda Swinton were in talks to star in the movie. Frances McDormand was considered for the role of Dr. Ventress before Jennifer Jason Leigh was cast. In November 2015, Gina Rodriguez was in talks to co-star in the film with Portman. In March 2016, it was announced that Oscar Isaac would join the cast. The casting of Portman and Jason Leigh as characters who are, in the later books, described as Asian and of half Native American descent, respectively. Garland stated that none of the five female characters' ethnicity is mentioned in the first book, which was the only one of the trilogy he had read, and that the script was complete before the second book was published. He cast the characters based on his reaction only to the actors he had met in the casting process, or actors he had worked with before. Principal photography was underway in April 2016, beginning in South Forest, Windsor Great Park. Some test shooting had already been done in St. Marks, Florida, but the vegetation in the area turned out to be too dense to give any depth perception on screen. By July, filming concluded at Holkham Beach and Holkham Pines in Norfolk. Due to a poorly received test screening, David Ellison, a financier at Paramount, became concerned that the film was "too intellectual" and "too complicated", and demanded changes to make it appeal to a wider audience, including making Portman's character more sympathetic and changing the ending. Producer Rudin sided with Garland in his desire to not alter the film, defending the film and refusing to take notes. Rudin had final cut. In December 2017, it was announced that due to the clashes between producer Rudin and Ellison, and the shift in Paramount's leadership, a deal was struck with Netflix handling international distribution rather than releasing the film in theaters. According to this deal, Paramount would handle the U.S. and China release, while Netflix would begin streaming the film in other territories seventeen days later.

The film stars Portman, Jason Leigh, Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac. The cast gave terrific performances that presented a modern update on the sort of siege scenario that was played out in films such as Alien (1979) and The Thing (1982). Here the cast and their performances become a study of femininity in crisis in what usually is an all-male environment in other science-fiction horror movies of this nature. And Portman is as good as she's ever been, firing one of the most badass guns like any other badass in movie history.

Is Annihilation one of the best science-fiction films of all-time? Possibly. But it is, for sure, a peerless masterpiece of relentless suspense, retina-wrecking visual excess and outright, nihilistic terror. With its breathtaking visuals and a still-unparalleled sense of terror, the film demonstrated Garland's single-minded focus to inspire awe in his audience. It is Garland's most accomplished and underrated directorial effort, as well as being one of the greatest and most elegantly constructed B-movies ever made.

Simon says Annihilation receives:

Also, see my review for Ex Machina.

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