Every review of Annihilation will draw comparisons to Arrival, which is totally fair. Both movies have similar structures. They are composed by injecting non-sequential scenes into the linear narrative and these scenes will make no sense until later. They’re both mysterious and thought-provoking. You will probably have to watch both movies twice to truly savor the unwrapping of the mystery. They easily put the “science” back in science fiction, whereas recent sci-fi outings simply rely on setting as an entrance into the genre. However, I would argue Annihilation is the thematic sequel to Ex Machina. Ex Machina dealt with machinery, technology, and creation. Man’s obsession with playing God and the foolish nature of that gesture itself. Annihilation deals with nature and biology–at least at first. Both movies are about mankind’s slow journey to its own demise. So to those reviews that say “Annihilation is the best sci-fi movie since Arrival”, I disagree only to say it’s the best sci-fi movie since Ex Machina.
Whether it’s “Don’t open this door” or “Don’t press this button”, it’s the inquisitive nature of the human mind to see the outcome of an action. That desire is so strong that the satisfaction of knowing the outcome is far greater than dealing with the consequences of a bad outcome. And the movie knows this too. It opens with Lomax (Benedict Wong) investigating Lena (Natalie Portman). It reveals that all other members of the expedition have died and uses that knowledge to make you wonder how and why.
The mystery surrounding the Southern Reach enhances the on-screen story. Who the Southern Reach is doesn’t matter, all that matters is exploring The Shimmer. The how and why is revealed through the women of the expedition. Each one has a story. Each one of them has a “why?”. Their pasts are used against them which strips away their ability to question why they’re even entering the unknown. In the case of Lena, we know she’s entering to seek questions about her husband. Through each flashback scene, it was the self-initiated destruction of her relationship that leads Kane into The Shimmer. Kane’s absence and his return lead her there to find answers.
Annihilation has monsters galore. There is the crocodile-shark hybrid. The frightening bear-pig that consumes and mimics the last screams of its victims as they’re dying. But the real monster here is the unknown. It’s our own minds working against us. Every step towards the unknown in this movie lead not to discovery but annihilation. Ignoring the monsters, both internal and external leads everyone in this movie into doom. Alex Garland brilliant carries over a core theme from Ex Machina, which is the human race will be responsible for its own destruction. This smartly crafted sci-fi horror is the best since his first.
So if you haven’t seen Annihilation yet, please do so. Go into it with as little knowledge as possible and an open mind. If you don’t make it to theaters, you can see it on Netflix starting March 12th in a bizarre and unprecedented deal by the streaming conglomerate. I highly recommend seeing it on the big screen though.