Feb 23, 2018

The director of Ex Machina has another winner sci-fi but not as great.


Grade: B

Director: Alex Garland (Ex Machina, 28 Days Later)

Screenplay: Garland, based on Jeff VanderMeer novel

Cast: Natalie Portman (Jackie), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 55 min

by John DeSando

“It's destroying everything.” The Psychologist, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh)

“It's not destroying... It's making something new.” The Biologist, Lena (Natalie Portman)

And so it goes in science fiction, no firm answers, even divergent opinions, but a whimsy about the future that catches my imagination every time.  Annihilation’s complexity could put off those who want answers the text is reluctant to offer. For those who go with the flow, this enjoyable if a bit obtuse sci-fi thriller poses questions about who we are and what an alien force could possibly want with such a flawed species.

The Shimmer is a new sci-fi concept monster about aliens or maybe our own nature conspiring to take over our lives, or duplicate them, Whatever, in the increasingly invasive world of the Shimmer, Lena has signed on with an all-woman patrol to enter the North Florida Area X (really shot in Great Britain forests) to find out the source of the invasion at a remote lighthouse and secretly find out why her husband, now returned from a similar patrol, is so strange.

Although I’m not sure all this weirdness is in Lena’s mind, let’s assume for the moment it is. I favor the theory that a misguided affair with a colleague caused deep uncertainty about her identity and the fear that her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), found out about the affair. Suffering and losing identity would be a puritanical punishment for a foolish dalliance.

On a purely sociological sci-fi basis, Annihilation may be about losing our flawed identities to an alien force that means to assimilate and forge new, benign identities for us. Not a bad idea given the toxic political world we live in.

While debriefing Lena after her return from Shimmer land, a scientist asserts to Lena, “You really have no idea what it was.”  Nor do I.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at