Published: Mon, February 26, 2018
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Oscar Isaac and Alex Garland on filming Annihilation, practical effects and more

Oscar Isaac and Alex Garland on filming Annihilation, practical effects and more

Holy cow, no wonder they sold it off.

We are dying to watch it when it streams on Netflix on March 12. The range of emotion we get to see Portman perform is a reminder to how talented she really is. But I suspect a sizable portion of the audience will see themselves there. I completely understand why Paramount doesn't quite know what to do with this, but they should be trusting the filmmaker and ignoring the likely poor CinemaScore (think the same thing as what happened with mother!).

Tessa Thompson: "I think this film is more a question than an answer".

"Annihilation", which is partly based on Jeff VanderMeer's novel, has plenty of forerunners (namely Andrei Tarkovsky's "Stalker") and it's certainly not flawless.

Natalie Portman may have been known as Padme Amidala on the "Star Wars" franchise, but apparently, her son has not seen the iconic film. There is a crash site in the southern United States where an alien ecosystem has taken root, and every group they send in has met with disaster. What is clear is she's still in mourning over the loss of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), missing for close to a year. The movie is simply her expedition and the realizations she makes as she ventures further and further into Area X, behind a phenomenon they've named "The Shimmer". As Danny Boyle's go-to screenwriter after they brought his first novel, The Beach to the big screen, they injected a shot of adrenaline to the shambling zombie genre in 2000s with 28 Days Later, and turned in a brilliantly sly theological inquiry in the form of a space adventure Sunshine. The subject of The New Weird literary movement came up via Alastair Reynold's Chasm City and China Mieville's Perdido St. Station, arguably the pinnacle of the briefly flowering niche-of-a-niche segment of science fiction that aimed to meld pulp adventure with classic literary drama, body horror with cyberpunk, and Lovecraftian terrors with grandiose world building. (Ugh, stomachs.) But they're so unflinchingly staged, so blunt about what they're showing us, that you have to admire them. We are just one more thing on this new planet that must be absorbed and deconstructed and reborn.

You have an I.Q. three digits or higher. In that sense, it's a somewhat inspired adaptation: "It will wig out numerous people who turn up to see it, but it spoils nothing of the source material". That meant he'd often have to jump out of his X-Wing as Poe Dameron, take off his blaster, and run across Pinewood Studios, tussle his hair, change into some camo trousers and be Kane, the only guy who's ever come back from the mysterious Area X. The two projects couldn't have been more different but that sense of dislocation actually helped the Guatemalan-Cuban-American actor get in character as he re-teamed with his Ex-Machina director. Whereas the book comes off as more of a portrait of an ecology in psychedelic decline, Garland's film is about a personality undergoing the same kind of breakdown. There's something of a magic trick to it in an adaptation of VanderMeer's work, since he writes in a way that is nearly intentionally oblique.


That said, the actors aren't given much to work with emotionally. I don't really know. It exerts an influence as you read it, suggesting this bleak hopelessness, as if the Universe has its thumb on you and there's nothing you can do about it.

"Hollywood rarely writes prominent parts for Asian-American and American Indian characters, and those roles could've bolstered the careers of women from those communities", AIFT founder Sonny Skyhawk told The Hollywood Reporter. This makes it sparkle with an originality and intensity that constantly has you on guard. They're surrounded by Jennifer Jason Leigh ("The Hateful Eight") as a psychologist who seems to be hiding something; Gina Rodriguez ("Jane the Virgin") as a paramedic who hates liars; Tuva Novotny ("Eat Pray Love") as an anthropologist whose child died of leukemia; and Tessa Thompson ("Creed") as a mousy physicist who cuts her arms just to prove that she's alive.

Once in Area X, our monster begins to reveal itself. Then again, there are places where it appears that Area X will also happily turn you inside out literally.

And yet, as beautifully as Garland unfurls his mystery, a few things do hold Annihilation back from being unabashedly remarkable.

But, I also respect the film's conclusion for being as nervy as it is. To say any more would be to spoil things, but it's both handsome and horrific (also, I've only described the first act). However, while the film is solid, there is no doubt that it's kind of a different beast from its source material (though we won't get into why, because of spoilers). Ultimately, firepower outweighs brain power, much like any action film populated exclusively by men.

Tech credits are over-the-moon great. One bear-like creature - very much not your average bear - growls with the screams of its recent prey.

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