At the beginning of Paramount Pictures new Movie ‘Annihilation’ we witness a meteor streaking through the atmosphere to wind up crashing into a small lighthouse. A little while later we learn that the lighthouse has become the center of an unearthly ‘shimmer’ that is slowly growing and that anyone who enters the shimmer never returns.
After several failed expeditions a team of five women enter the shimmer to discover that the plants and animals are all mutating. It was at this point, not quite halfway into the film that I said to myself: ‘this is the Colour out of Space by H. P. Lovecraft’. Actually ‘Annihilation’ would have been better if it had just stuck to being an update of Lovecraft’s story.
For those who haven’t read Lovecraft, in the ‘Colour out of Space’ a meteor lands on a New England farm and a strange unearthly colour (Lovecraft was thinking of something like Ultraviolet or Infrared light but somehow alive) begins to spread. The colour proceeds to suck the life out of every living thing on the farm.
O’k so in ‘Annihilation’ the meteor lands in a lighthouse instead of a farm, it generates a shimmer rather than a colour and causes mutations instead of sucking the lifeforce but those are just details. It’s really the same story plot.
The only part of ‘Annihilation’ that is different is an idea that gets mentioned along the way that anyone who volunteers for a suicide mission must have something terribly wrong with their life. The main character Lena, played by Natalie Portman certainly does. Her husband joined an earlier mission into the shimmer because he found out she was having an affair and now she feels guilty about him so she volunteers for the next mission. Much too much of the movie is taken up with this pointless subplot.
Oh, I know. Nowadays when you tell a story you simply have to have well-developed characters that your readers or viewers can care about. You can take it from me however, there’s no one in this movie to care about. Also you can add the fact that the ‘surprise ending’ simply wasn’t.
Now Annihilation wasn’t all bad, the special effects were good and the basic idea of something really alien coming to our world on a meteor is intriguing. In fact it is revealed later in the movie that the shimmer isn’t causing mutations so much as mixing the DNA of different creatures.
Then when Lena finally reaches the lighthouse we see things like glass trees along the beach. Since glass is made out of sand I started to wonder if the shimmer is now mixing life and non-life! That would have been cool but nothing is done with the concept!
Really, eliminating the trite infidelity subplot and putting a lot more thought into the Science Fiction elements would have made Annihilation a much better film. As it is we never learn anything about why this ‘Shimmer’ came to Earth or where it came from or what it is trying to do.
Annihilation is based on a novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer (who also wrote the screenplay with director Alex Garland) and is the first part of a trilogy. Maybe in the other novels we get some of the answers but frankly I don’t know if I’m interested. I think I’ll reread ‘The Colour out of Space’ instead.