Don’t miss this film. ANNIHILATION is free for Amazon Prime members, or at least it was at the writing of this post.
Five Reasons to Watch ANNIHILATION
- The film puts forward a non-humanoid portrayal of an alien species invading our planet–always a welcome change in sci-fi land.
- Watch it for the tension, mystery and suspense (on par with films like Alien and The Thing).
- Watch it for the dynamic, mostly female cast. Realistic and flawed characters with agency and intelligence.
- Watch it for the beautifully imagined world. The CGI and other effects are a visual feast.
- I also enjoyed the creepy music. I expect it will make your skin crawl as it did mine.
ANNIHILATION is based on The Southern Reach Trilogy novels by Jeff VanderMeer. Watch the film and read the first book (in particular), also called Annihilation. To read my review of the first novel, click here. The film diverges enough from the novel, spoilers aren’t an issue. Both stand alone and give the consumer something different. The most important commonality in both is the main character: Lena, as named in the film. She is not named in the book, but is only known as the biologist.
Alex Garland wrote the screenplay based on the trilogy, but focused on the first book. He takes that novel told in the first person, a story relayed by the journal entries of the biologist, and creates something that makes sense for the screen.
In one of the film’s earliest scenes, a comet or asteroid hits Earth, near a lighthouse on the North-Eastern coast of the US. Within a few years (we learn later), an anomaly develops in and around the area where the asteroid hit. It becomes circumscribed by what the government people call, the shimmer.
The story of Lena opens with her sitting in a chair in a mostly empty hospital-type viewing room. She is dressed in scrubs, surrounded by men and women in hazmat suits, many of whom watch her through windows. One man is interviewing her about her journey into the shimmer. She is the only survivor who has returned from inside the shimmer out of a 5-person team. As he questions her, the story unfolds.
The casting of ANNIHILATION is strong, with nuanced performances by Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh (as the psychologist and expedition leader).
This film was released on a February weekend in 2018, the weekend following the release of Black Panther. While the Marvel masterpiece sucked nearly all of the movie-going public into the theaters, one, two and three times to ooh and aah over that story as well as the graphics and the unfolding of a Wakanda power struggle, ANNIHILATION quietly drew its small and eclectic audience. It left the theaters before the Hollywood press had a chance to say much about it. In truth, even without Black Panther as competition for eyeballs, the film was rated “R”, and therefore would not have attracted the masses.
However, similar to a film like Under the Skin, this story is so creepy and alien, it pushes the imagination. The sci-fi fanatic will adore it…as should biologists, who will see their discipline elevated in a way not often witnessed on the big screen.
If you are a DVD watcher, here is a link for purchase.
I end with a favorite quote:
“Was it carbon based? What did it want? It came here for a reason. It came here for a reason. It mutated everything.”
The Short Review. Why or Why not Read ACCEPTANCE?
- I already consumed the first two in the trilogy and like to finish things
- I wanted to understand more of the mystery that is Area X. There was definitely more backstory to absorb in this volume
- I enjoyed the deeply flawed, but thoughtful characters
- I wanted to spend more time in the imaginative world of Area X
- The writing style was unique and often beautiful
Why avoid reading?
- Because the point of view was shifting all the time, it was a challenge to attach to any one character
- Disappointing ending
- The writing style grew stale after a while…lots of interior musings and struggles without enough plot or even conflict (the conflict is underlying, but too diffuse for my tastes)
- Not only does VanderMeer shift points of view with every chapter, he also moves back and forth between past and present
- I started this book on audio, but switched to print about a 1/3 of the way through because POV and time switching was too confusing
To buy ACCEPTANCE, click here.
To buy the SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY, click here.
The Longer Review of ACCEPTANCE
If you read my earlier reviews, you understand that I started out a big fan of Annihilation. Not only was the main character, compelling, but the mysteries that unfolded in the narrative created the perfect amount of tension to keep me engaged. I’m guessing this was true for many other readers interested in the interior life of this quietly observant biologist as she ventures into Area X. The biologist (she is never named in the book) is at the heart a true scientist and in certain respects more attuned to flora and fauna than to people, but she observes people with a scientific eye. She is spooky, highly intelligent and trustworthy as a narrator in surprising and interesting ways. I really loved this character. I loved that she was introverted and anti-social. She also had clear motivation to act because her husband had been on a previous mission into Area X and returned damaged before succumbing to death She is a worthy rival to the various human and monster challengers that get in her way. In fact, she is such a great character that Alex Garland (screenwriter) took the story and created a feature-length film around her, that character played wonderfully by Natalie Portman. I loved the film, but it is not the same story told in the trilogy, nor is it the same story told in the novel after which it is named. The film narrative diverges in significant ways. I will post my review of the film tomorrow. I ought not say more unless I spoil the story.
What to say about VanderMeer’s style? Be prepared for words like ziggurat to be on the page. His writing is lovely and intellectually gratifying if you’re interested in imaginative metaphors and curious juxtapositions. This language mimics the beauty and strangeness of Area X. Here is an excerpt:
In Control’s imagination, the entrance to the topographical anomaly was enormous, mixed with the biologist’s vast bulk in his thoughts so that he had expected a kind of immense ziggurat upside down in the earth. But no, it was what it had always been: a little over sixty feet in diameter, circular, located in the middle of a small clearing. The entrance lay there open for them, as it had for so many others. No soldiers here, nothing more unusual than the thing itself.
I’m not opposed to imaginative language, but the extensive descriptions did sometime bog down the story for me, especially when I was trying to consume the book via audio. With a passage like above, I would sometimes have to rewind…What did he just say? Did he say ziggurat?
Finally, my reticence to fully praise this trilogy is that the mystery is not explained to my satisfaction. Too many unanswered questions. I guess VanderMeer has another novel called Area X, but given this group of books, Annihilation, Authority and ACCEPTANCE are presented to the world as a trilogy…I want satisfaction by the end of the third book. I don’t want to have to pick up another novel to figure out the answers I need.
Regarding the audio experience. For whatever reason, my brain struggles to follow an audio narrative that jumps around in point of view and in the timeline like this novel did. I struggled with this same issue when I listened to The Three Body Problem. Annihilation as an audio book was easier to listen to. It was straightforward, narrated by one character in the first person and unfolded more or less in a linear timeline (with a few memories/backstory as a part of filling out the character). That narration works well for me. I’m curious for those of you who consume a lot of audio books if you have these same struggles? Drop me a line and let me know.
ANNIHILATION, Review of the novel
By Jeff VanderMeer
“When you see beauty in desolation it changes something in you. Desolation tries to colonize you.”
The above observation comes to the reader early in ANNIHILATION and is a good representation of the reflective narration of this creepy science fiction novel, a book I highly recommend to the scifi lover.
Here’s the short review on why I recommend the novel. If you want to read the longer review…it follows immediately after the list.
To buy this book, click here.
- This is an all-female cast for a change
- Eloquent narrator/main character. Gorgeous writing overall.
- Very creepy vibe and tension all the way through to keep you reading
- Short and sweet, but not too short. (Plus, if you love it, there are two novels that follow. See The Southern Reach Trilogy).
ANNIHILATION tells the story of an all-female expedition into an alien eco-system that has planted itself on a stretch of coastal Northeastern US. The reader learns quickly that most of the people within previous expeditions have disappeared into this anomaly, a place labeled by the government as Area X. Only a few have returned, including the protagonist’s husband, who was on the 11th expedition and died from cancer soon after his return.
The primary narrator, also the protagonist of the story, writes the account in her journal. She is the biologist and is never named. None of the primary characters are named, but exist in the story via their function. We see all of Area X through the biologist’s eyes. In addition to her, this 12th expedition into Area X is made up of a psychologist, a surveyor (former military) and an anthropologist. The story opens with the expedition already underway. The four women are hiking to a basecamp that had been established by previous expeditions.
There are two prominent story-lines woven together artfully by author, Jeff VanderMeer.
One is the slow-building and always tense journey into the center of Area X, where a tunnel (or as our protagonist insists on calling it, a tower) and a lighthouse need to be explored. Discoveries are made about both, as well as the environment which is filled with strange hybrid vegetation and creatures. Those discoveries deepen the mystery.
The second storyline, which gave me much pleasure, was the unveiling of the main character. As a narrator, the biologist’s observations are keen, and her attempt to understand what happened to her husband lends itself to a natural telling of her backstory. There is a love tale here, subtle, but steady. It progresses with the first storyline, marching toward the climax and a revelation on par with a religious epiphany.
In writing this review, I did want to understand the word itself, Annihilation. In part I kept looking it up because I was always misspelling it. (I was forgetting that second “n”).
Annihilate comes from two Latin roots: an and nihil, annihilare means: to bring to nothing. In Middle English and later within the church, you find the same roots in the word annulment. An annulment was a legal/religious term that ended a marriage (in essence, turned the marriage into nothing, as if it never existed).
However, the coolest definition of the word is found in physics. Annihilation is the reaction in which a particle and its antiparticle collide and disappear. Energy is then released. I’m not a physicist, so when I started reading articles on annihilation and saw the terms Higgs Boson and Quarks…I realized I was out of my league. However, it would be safe to say…that when the process of annihilation takes place there is destruction and creation. I’m assuming VanderMeer, the author of ANNIHILATION, knows exactly how this definition frames the narrative.