Five women (Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, et al.) investigate a dangerous swampland captured by something known as “the Shimmer,” previously investigated by military operatives who lost their lives. This is the premise of the recent movie Annihilation (2018), a sci-fi tale largely nonsensical and thus inferior—but intriguing too. It is also deeply disturbing, in a way that has the ring of truth about life.
What seems to be the case about the Shimmer area is that it is representative of pathology. It is a place of metastasizing, of mutation, of refracted DNA. The dialogue contains references to cancer, dementia, etc. The women are in a sphere of deadly catastrophe essentially no different from their own. What has to be done to annihilate the annihilator?
Sophisticated acting by Portman and Leigh and others enrich the film, and director Alex Garland “has crafted sequences of strange splendor” (Alan Scherstuhl). Annihilation, in truth, is neither a success nor a failure (I don’t know about the novel from which it is adapted). It is simply disappointing as sci-fi and compelling as representational art.