Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sci-Fi Watch: Annihilation (2018)

Watched:  02/02/2019
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's

I really, really wish I'd seen Annihilation (2018) without all the hype and teeth gnashing about "why aren't people seeing this?", etc...  Much like any movie with Oscar buzz, this sets the table for expectations 9 out of 10 movies given this treatment can't possibly match.

Based on a book I haven't read, the film falls into the same sci-fi category of Stalker and Solaris with a touch of Lovecraftian horror and madness stirred in (shades of Carpenter's The Thing, tbh).  Using the framing of macro, unweildy and inexplicable sci-fi overarching plot or framework, we're seeing an allegorical and literal exploration of character, which is always a trick as you're merging the fantastic with the mundane that can read as melodrama.  I don't want to be dismissive of what it takes to get those kinds of ideas to the screen - because lord knows studios would much prefer a deeply concrete film about Vin Diesel punching aliens - but... once you clock to what they're up to (and I'll argue they overplayed their hand the minute Oscar Isaac's character re-appears in the choices in the script), the movie is oddly predictable.

Honestly, from what they showed in the trailers I guessed what the movie was going to be and I'll argue, I was overwhelmingly correct, right down to the tone.  Heck, I even picked who was going to get picked off first based on who probably commanded the most money for showing up for the movie.

That said, the cast is really fantastic - and if you're wondering if Tessa Thompson can play someone with a far more muted edge: yes, she can!  And it's a delight to see Jennifer Jason Leigh reminding everyone the reason she never slipped into character roles is because she absolutely disappears into a role - there is no Jennifer Jason Leigh signature go-to bit, there's just widely different roles all nailed to perfection, and we can argue whether that's hurt her or not in Hollywood.

Our star is Natalie Portman, who brings her physical fragility with her to this dangerous landscape, but also that inner steel she can portray. And, of course, at this point she's used to playing women with messy, conflicted inner lives and in sci-fi flicks - so while this wasn't a walk in the park by any means, she does own the role, which is also her stepping into even more mature territory (I honestly can't wait to see what she's doing in her mid-40's and beyond).

The design is weirdly buyable, and aside from one particular set that drifts towards 00's-era Giger-ness, is remarkably novel and lovely, even as the fact it looks "wrong" sets you on edge as much as the tonal, post-Tangerine Dream score.

I dunno.  People were, like, *angry* that this movie didn't do super well, but it's not exactly a movie for everybody on a number of levels.  And when I think about how Arrival worked and that its emotional beats landed so much better, merging the character themes with the sci-fi concepts, and when I think about how this movie - in movie - tips it's hat to Stalker via title cards (which is a better movie, and it's hard not to think about while you're watching this one) and that the ending is both *meaningful* from a character standpoint and manages to have a sort of cheesy horror movie appeal... all of which was more interesting from a plot check-box standpoint than from a visceral "in the moment" movie watching experience...

But, yeah, the bear-thing was creepy as @#$%, so it had that going for it.


RHPT said...

I hate to be that guy but the book on which it was based is basically unfilmable. They kept the main elements and ideas, but the overall story works a lot better (and even weirder).

The League said...

yeah, I totally believe that (and we need never apologize at The Signal Watch for mentioning how a book is better). I just felt like you could feel the studio notes here and there pounding it into something more for the masses. Like - characters bluntly state their motivations in at least two scenes. But a lot of it that didn't make sense was just in the scripting. Like - you really only sent one group in a year ago? You don't have a massive army of people there studying this thing? It's not PUBLIC?