Synopsis: An unknown shimmering thing falls to earth, transforming the area around it. A team of military scientists enter this zone of refracting reality to uncover truths they might not want to understand.
• A truly disorienting and non-linear descent into physical and mental madness. The possibly unreliable narrator added to the intentional disorientation.
• The shaky emotional states of the main characters literally added color to their experiences within the Shimmer’s domain.
• It is very rare to see a film constructed like one of Lovecraft’s pieces of weird fiction, and Annihilation inexplicably made it work in film format. The dread was almost felt with every sense.
• The story was richly detailed and genuinely fascinating.
• There were no heroes or villains.
• The visuals were as beautiful as they were horrifying.
• Those unfamiliar with how weird fiction tends to leave some things unexplained — the things that cannot be explained — might have been confused by the ending.
• Anyone expecting a more “understandable” alien like Thanos or Groot would unlikely have enjoyed the narrative overall.
• Certainly left fans wanting more, when there might not be sequels.
Weird fiction’s strength is its weakness: the describing of the unexplainable and inexplicable. When HP Lovecraft published The Color Out of Space in 1927, he sought to create something truly alien. Indeed, Cthulhu and the rest of the ancient alien gods were at least understood by how they had their own goals that have nothing to do with humans. The Color was something completely different from even those powerful aliens. It emitted radiation at levels that slowly poisoned and mutated everything around it, with a madness somewhere in between. And by the time it finally leaves, there was only ash and death in its wake. Us humans had no way of knowing if it knew or cared about where it was or how things reacted to it. That is very much like how astrophysicist Neil DeGrass Tyson described the things in science that are simply strange: we can observe what is happening, but do not yet know the reasoning behind much of it. Such plots are hard to put onto the big screen. Most of sci-fi today has aliens with wants, needs, and goals that are at least somewhat understandable. Indeed, the loose adaptation, Die Monster Die (1965), ultimately had Karloff become a Frankensteinian monster.
All that is the maddening core of Annihilation. Everything was twisted by the Color’s just as unknowable cousin, the Shimmer: memories, DNA, wants, needs, psychological states. Was it studying the life around it, or was life reacting to it? There was no answer to that question, not yet, at least. All we could do was see what was happening because of the Shimmer’s presence. At the same time, perhaps everything that happened to the team was directly related to who they were before entering the Shimmer’s domain. They were all looking for some kind of escape and change to their lives that they could not find in the understandable world, and their horror was in how the Shimmer could give them what they desired in incomprehensible ways. “We are all different people throughout our lives. That’s OK, that’s good. So long as we remember who we were …” the Eleventh Doctor before letting every cell in his body transform. To understand a true piece of weird fiction is to know that if we somehow decode the refracted madness of the story, we will have become something else.
Rotten Tomatoes — 87%