Annihilation (2018)
February 23, 2018 5:16 PM - Subscribe

A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don't apply.
posted by phunniemee (113 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you have read the book and didn't like it, I have great news for you because this movie is almost nothing like the book.

It's super upsetting! In a good way!
posted by phunniemee at 5:17 PM on February 23, 2018 [14 favorites]


I've had the Southern Reach omnibus on my to be read pile for quite some time. Would you recommend reading the book or seeing the movie first?
posted by Justinian at 5:51 PM on February 23, 2018


I've only read the first book and I really disliked it (told what could be a very good story in the boringest possible way) and the movie is more like a wild spinoff of the idea of what the book could have been, but I'm glad I read it first. Because shit if I had read that book after seeing that movie I would just be mad.
posted by phunniemee at 6:03 PM on February 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


The book has a quiet maddening banal despair that I doubt the movie could or would capture. It looks pretty though.
posted by ian1977 at 7:45 PM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


"It's super upsetting! In a good way!"

MY KIND OF MOVIE, WOOOO!
posted by Aquifer at 8:32 PM on February 23, 2018


The book has a quiet maddening banal despair

so basically i love SF like this. is this a plug for the book at the expense of the film?
posted by mwhybark at 12:23 AM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


No I have not seen the movie. So it's just a plug for the book. All 3 actually.
posted by ian1977 at 5:03 AM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


The book is quite literally perfect. Anyone saying differently is a spore-person.

And it's not slow or boring at all. Every 30 pages the author kicks over the table and reveals that a basic facet of the story is not at all what it was supposed to be.
posted by Balna Watya at 5:23 AM on February 24, 2018 [16 favorites]


I agree the book isn't boring, but I can totally see how some people would be put off by the pace too.
posted by ian1977 at 7:21 AM on February 24, 2018


oh my god this movie you guys

i loved this but would totally understand many people not enjoying it at all. it's nothing like and everything like the vandermeer book/trilogy it's based on; it is deliberately slow, haunting and eerie, and ultimately horrific and bonkers; I want to watch it every day and let it get into my skin and my blood until it bears fruit. i'm so glad this movie exists, that movies like this even can exist

also, SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS:

the skullbear roar-screaming was one of the most horrific things I've ever seen or heard in a movie, holy shit

the thing the movie really nails that captures the spirit of the book is how inexplicable and unmotivated the "alien" force is; it's just that, a force, inexorable as entropy. the other thing the movie does well, something that must have really struck Garland in the source material for how much it's developed in the film, is play with and disorient the notion of identity and coherent self
posted by Kybard at 11:05 AM on February 24, 2018 [21 favorites]


First thought: once the Blu-Ray is out, this is absolutely going to be one of those "test out the new home theater setup" kind of movies, because holy shit the sounds and visuals were incredible. The folks who won't get a chance to see this on the big screen really got cheated.

At the same time, it'll definitely reward multiple viewings, because there's just so much subtle blink-and-you-miss-it reality warping. The infinite ouroboros tattoo that we first see on Lena's arm and then on the lichen-ified soldier in the pool apparently -- my partner noticed this, not me -- pops up on Anya's arm at one point. As the expedition approaches the border but before they officially cross, the military vehicles behind already look fuzzy and mirage-like. The deer's doppelganger is both skeletal, like the bear, and floral, like the humans in the city. Stuff like that.

I also loved how balletic that scene with Lena and her double was, without being, like, over the top about it. I assume the double was a person in a suit? It looked like it to me, not CGI. Major props to whoever that was, their performance was incredible, whether in-person or motion capture.

One thing my partner and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out afterward is what made Kane and Lena so special that their doppelgangers got to leave when nobody else's did. Kane couldn't have been the only married man to go in, right? In the end, we decided that Kane's doppelganger left Area X because his motivations changed while inside the border.

Kane is self-destructive going in because he knows about Lena's affair. He probably even hates her at the time. He does finish self-destructing, but first he tells his doppelganger to go find Lena. I think the Shimmer decided to indulge him out of sheer curiosity. Other expedition members must have wanted to go back to their loved ones outside (or at least send a message), but here's Kane sending a message to someone he came in hating. So it needed to find out why, mirroring Lena's later need to go into Area X to find out what happened to her husband.

(Minor book spoiler! Obviously, the novel didn't need to explain "why Kane" because all the other expedition 11g members other than the psychologist also had their doppelgangers return.)
posted by tobascodagama at 1:43 PM on February 24, 2018 [9 favorites]


Oh, yeah, that was my other thought. I actually loved how heavily it diverged from the book while keeping a lot of the same core themes. I'm firmly in the "adaptations are their own thing" camp, and this movie doesn't just camp there, it lives there.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:52 PM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


I may have to see it again, because this time I was pretty focused on deviations from the book. When we last see Ventress before Lena finds her in the lighthouse, is she becoming transparent? Does the bear-monster also flicker into transparency during part of its attack on Lena?

So, when Ventress dissolves into an energy cloud, that energy mixes with Lena's blood and duplicates her. But the Kane duplicate seems to have been made a different way. At least, from the video he leaves, it appears he's in the same place, and briefly films the same oilslick-mannequin type of figure, but did someone else have to go into the lighthouse first so it could "convert" their energy into the duplicate? And what was up with Kane's weird accent in the video? Had it somehow been absorbed or "refracted" from another of his teammates?

One change I didn't like is the motivation for Lena's distance from Kane. In the book, she was a lot more like a cross between the Ventress and Radek characters, just kind of remote and occupied by living in her own mind. She was far more comfortable in the non-human world. She never would have had an affair.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:49 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


When we last see Ventress before Lena finds her in the lighthouse, is she becoming transparent? Does the bear-monster also flicker into transparency during part of its attack on Lena?

Yes! The bear definitely goes partially transparent while Josie is shooting it.
posted by tobascodagama at 3:19 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Thank God someone else noticed the tattoo thing too,I saw it and expected it to be a chekovs gun type of thing, but when it was never explicitly acknowledged o started to worry I was the crazy one. What a mind fuck
posted by Carillon at 3:56 PM on February 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


Apparently many more people have noticed the tattoo: https://www.bustle.com/p/what-does-the-tattoo-in-annihilation-mean-natalie-portmans-ink-is-as-mysterious-as-the-movie-8286956/amp
posted by Kitty Stardust at 5:10 PM on February 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


I assume the double was a person in a suit? It looked like it to me, not CGI. Major props to whoever that was, their performance was incredible, whether in-person or motion capture.

It's the same actress who plays Oscar Isaac's dance partner in Ex Machina.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:35 PM on February 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


I’m definitely gonna need to see that again. More than once while watching it I thought to myself, “WELP, that’s a lot to unpack.”
posted by palomar at 11:14 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Really clever use of imagery around glasses of water distorting (refracting) the hands of people beyond them. Used a couple times to show people blending into one another. In the opening scene, it's unclear if we were seeing Portman's or Isaac's hands. Later on, a similar water glass is used to zoom in on a wedding ring.

I liked the book a lot, and I'm glad the movie found a different voice for similar ideas. Someone (on Metafilter I think?) pointed out that the book describes the appearance of mundane things and the impression of abnormal things, in a way that is disturbing to a reader, because you wind up at a loss in the same way the characters are. The movie can't really do that, so I was anxious to see how they handled The Crawler.

(Spoilers)

At first I was disappointed. No ominous time-and-space dilating stairwell, a just Kubrick-esque singularity turned into a spooky oil person. But then the oil person didn't do what I expected. And it kept doing strange, boundary-pushing stuff with inscrutable intentions that became dangerous and unnerving, and maybe they did manage to squeeze a bit of unknowable cosmic horror in there. The climax just got weirder and creeper as it progressed. Nicely done.

Also, that bear was some high-octane nightmare fuel. Like, holy shit.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 11:19 PM on February 24, 2018 [9 favorites]


I loved the book, read it at least 3 times. I went with a mixed group of book-readers and non-book-readers. After the show the non-reader who sat next to me said they knew it must have been very different from the book because I went "Huh." or "Hmm." about 27 times out loud.
posted by glonous keming at 7:29 AM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


In the cave, Ventress seemed convinced that the aliens had hostile/destructive motivations. That they wanted the world to be split over and over till nothings left or did I misunderstand that? Any reason to believe in Lena's interpretation over Ventress?
posted by asra at 8:32 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Well... at the end, what seems to be Lena is really the alien/entity. So it seems up to interpretation: is “Lena” telling the truth about the intentions of her kind?
posted by palomar at 9:23 AM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


To be quite honest, I was barely able to make out Ventress' dialogue in that final scene, so I'm not 100% sure what her take was. But I think her interpretation is coloured by her cancer. She's unable to see the Shimmer as anything but cancerous.

Lena acknowledges that she can't ever really understand the Shimmer's motivation (even as she's been colonised and changed by it), and I'm inclined to take that at face value.

But I also don't believe that the Lena at the end is actually an alien entity in the way that Kane is. It's just that she's not the Lena that went in. Physically, yes, she's been refracted by the Shimmer, but more importantly the experience itself changed her emotionally. She both figuratively and literally transferred her self-destructive impulse to her Shimmer doppelganger when she left it with the phosphorous grenade.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:33 AM on February 25, 2018 [10 favorites]


my take on it (which is partially built off of my understanding from the book's cryptic information) is that the "alien" presence isn't really conscious in any conventional sense; it's an engine of mutation and entropy, like a cancerous tumor. so it doesn't have either malevolent or benevolent motivation; it just is. so both Ventress and Lena are correct at the end -- what the shimmer does is refract and reflect and iterate at inordinate speed, which causes both the rapid blossoming of life and the rapid decay of coherent selves and objects

kane's dialogue in the video ("are you me? am I you?") is so unnerving in part because of this; the shimmer renders a concept of self irrelevant, unobtainable. Lena at the end might be the doppleganger formed by the shimmer (I'm not so sure) but it doesn't really matter; what the shimmer has done to her either way is effectively the same as what it did to kane, annihilating her mind and soul
posted by Kybard at 9:39 AM on February 25, 2018 [8 favorites]


Did we ever see what became of Rosie the physicist after she walked away from Lena? Are we to understand that she voluntarily gave herself over to the Shimmer?
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:16 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I took it as Roise becoming one of those flower structures...

Maybe this is a derail but the book seems to factor some text "Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner...." written by the crawler which reads as being far from without purpose.
posted by asra at 10:22 AM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


I thought her name was Josie. And we saw plants sprouting from her arms, so I assumed she turned into a plant, one of those human-looking tree things.
posted by yasaman at 10:22 AM on February 25, 2018 [5 favorites]


D’oh! Josie, not Rosie. And now I remember the plant arms!
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:30 AM on February 25, 2018


I have more thoughts. (This is my favorite kind of movie.)

In a flashback with Kade, Lena is reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta Lacks was a woman whose cancer cells, harvested without her consent, continued to propagate long after her death, which allowed significant strides in cancer research. Josie comments on the disturbing nature Sheppard's death, oneself destroyed with only your pain and fear and horror left in the world. A thematic echo.

There's a bit of Solaris in the way the Shimmer interacts with people. Less intentional than Solaris, but still, people seem to get out what they put in, in a way. Ventress comments that not many people are suicidal, but everyone's self destructive to some degree, and in the moment it comes across as character building of this person who coldly intellectualizes other people's pain, but I think it's also kind of key to understanding how the Shimmer behaves. Each person is lost to the team in a way that doesn't exactly mirror, but dovetails with Sheppard's early assessment of why they would go off to that place.

Anya fights to control her impulses, and her impulses become dangerous and chaotic when her perception comes into question. Josie is withdrawn and solitary. She has scars on her arms from self-harm, and that's where the flowers begin to grow when she disappears, quietly and rather peacefully, into the foliage. Cancer was consuming Ventress from within, and that's exactly what happened to her when she reached her goal. Sheppard discussed mourning her former self, and then the voice of the bear became another echo of her, a dead-faced monster with her voice, (also she'd had a teddy bear clipped to her backpack.)

What effect would it have on this kind of metaphysical refracting force, I wonder, that they kept sending in such self-destructive people? What devastation is The Shimmer causing, and what devastation is it just reflecting back? Is it growing malignantly, or is it responding to the Southern Reach's pushing, like Lena at the door of the lighthouse?

Lena, by contrast, wasn't fully self-destructive, not to the degree the others were. Understanding what's happening to Kade is her primary motivation. She's transformed like everybody, and knows when she comes out she isn't the same Lena she was, but she does come out. It seems for the most part, the harm the Shimmer does is the harm people do to themselves.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 10:53 AM on February 25, 2018 [21 favorites]


(Oh, Kain rather, not Kade. Had IMDB open and everything.)
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 12:04 PM on February 25, 2018


It was definitely methodical, but many creepy details stuck with me.

SPOILERS: I loved the furless skull of the screaming bear, the wriggling worms, the tableau of bones outside of the lighthouse. The idea of self-destruction, be it by choice or the inevitability of time. I also liked how a beacon of light burst into life below the lighthouse. A place designed to warn or guide people adrift at sea.

I have a question about the glass of water near the end. I swear when Portman held the glass, her hand came in from the left and was reflected, but it should've come from the right. What did that mean?
posted by systematize at 1:34 PM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


I mostly liked this. I wish it was more like Stalker and less like Alien (although both are good - the contemplative pace of Stalker seems like it'd fit the story better than the horror thriller pace of Alien). It felt a little bit rushed at times, and like maybe the pacing was off to fit a huge metaphysical mystery into a comprehensible big screen Sci Fi flick that has a chance of making more than three dollars at the box office.

One of the themes that I really liked was the idea that humans seek out destructive systems, which (regardless of the promise of change) is what the Shimmer is. Traditionally we view our selves as something immaterial and immutable, but The Shimmer (as much as it can be said to have desires or drives) views us as data to be manipulated, altered, or deleted as necessary. Functionally a human body and mind aren't much different from an orchid, or a bear, or a speck of dirt. It's all information that's process and recombined into new forms. The two people from the expedition that make it to the lighthouse are a psychologist and a biologist, which we can probably also think of as a constructionist and materialist POV on human cognition. Ventress makes the point in dialogue - we like to imagine that we construct our self through experience and choice, but a darker and less appealing option is that we're meat robots making a preselected series of choices given our biological needs and our material circumstances.

I loved the ambiguity of the finale, which (we need to remember) is a story being told by a character who is revealed to be infected. Is the story true, or is the flaming extinction of the entity a convenient lie to hide its actual success in breaking the barrier of Zone X? Is the entity really divorced of desire and motivation, as Lena posits? Or does it desire supremacy and domination, as a carefully crafted lie would suggest?

Perhaps its a little of both. Maybe Lena actually did destroy The Shimmer, but maintains the seed of it inside of herself. The desire may not just be personal destruction, but a species wide extinction. That's a resonant idea as, right at this very moment, both individuals and large groups of humans make mistake after mistake that may lead to our planet being uninhabitable, even despite the obvious foolishness of that path.
posted by codacorolla at 3:10 PM on February 25, 2018 [5 favorites]


Ventress makes the point in dialogue - we like to imagine that we construct our self through experience and choice, but a darker and less appealing option is that we're meat robots making a preselected series of choices given our biological needs and our material circumstances.

The novel (minor spoilers here) expands on this with the hypnotism plot. The Psychologist's hypnotism corrupts the ability of the expedition members to process their sensory inputs and compels obedience. At that point, what's the difference between the expedition members and Area X's doppelgangers?
posted by tobascodagama at 4:20 PM on February 25, 2018


Maybe this is a derail but the book seems to factor some text "Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner...." written by the crawler which reads as being far from without purpose.

have you read the full trilogy? the final book in particular deals with the genesis of those words that complicates the question of whether they're meant as a mission statement

incidentally, I'm glad I quickly shrugged off the need for this to adhere in any particular way to the source material, because otherwise the loss of those words (and of the book's specific use of the title word) would have stung a lot more; the book's eerie playfulness with language and description is my favorite aspect of the writing.
posted by Kybard at 4:40 PM on February 25, 2018 [5 favorites]


oh and re: the book's hypnosis thread -- I'd thought maybe it would come into play with how the women all have no sense of having set up camp after they enter Area X, and with the somewhat suspicious/ominous shot of Ventress in that context, but it's almost definitely for the best that the movie ultimately discarded it
posted by Kybard at 4:42 PM on February 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


Just saw it and loved it; I didn't read the book which seems to mean that I probably enjoyed it more than I would have if I had. My wife said that she kept being distracted by the differences from the book although I generally like movies more than the books so maybe it wouldn't have bothered me.

It's definitely very derivative of quite a few similar movies: Solaris, The Thing, Alien/Aliens but I love those films and this doesn't seem to have the copy-paste mash-up feeling that something like Stranger Things does.
posted by octothorpe at 4:56 PM on February 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


I've already stated my love for the books, but just now sitting here rereading the first few pages, there's so much there tossed by the wayside. The first two words of the book are literally "The tower" which the readers will know quite well it's not a tower per se, and that incongruity and irrational thought processes of the narrator the Biologist is a big part of what makes the reader feel so out-of-skin uncomfortable as the pages go by.

Another thing I'm reminded of in the opening pages is how the Biologist, throughout the entire book, refers to "huge aquatic reptiles" and never, not one single time, calls them alligators. She gives the names for every other creature in the book but never names alligators. I think this is another example of the subtle things Vandermeer does to instill a sense of wrongness on every page.

I won't go on about the book since this is the movie thread, but stuff like The Tower and The Words are perfectly filmable. Things like narrating as if the word "alligator" has been erased from the Biologist's vocabulary is a good example of unfilmable. IMO.

I enjoyed the movie but they could have not even bothered to use the name Annihilation for it. Market it as Shimmer or Prism or something and option the real movie rights off to someone else to make an actual movie version the book instead of what occurred here where they seem to make a movie based off an abridged paraphrase of a negative Goodreads comment.
posted by glonous keming at 6:26 PM on February 25, 2018 [9 favorites]


It had a few moments that took me out of my enthrall but at the end I was left absolutely speechless, having to catch my breath as the credits rolled. I can't stop thinking about it. That final sequence in the lighthouse -- it struck me as such audacious and risky and confident filmmaking. I feel like it could have easily come across as ridiculous but, to me at least, it was absolutely stunning.
posted by treepour at 6:46 PM on February 25, 2018 [5 favorites]


Yes, the whole idea of doppelgangers and mirrors was built up enough beforehand for that scene to just work, where it could easily have been silly. It didn't hurt that the ground floor of the lighthouse was set-dressed to look more than a little "stagey", so the ballet performance didn't look as out of place as it might have in another context.

Speaking of, I actually really appreciated the little nod to the "tower/tunnel" with the hole leading below the lighthouse. The hole was actually in the wall, horizontally, but the floor arced upward into the wall so subtly that the transition wasn't obvious. So Lena had to go up to go down. (Not to mention the far more obvious fact that it was a tunnel built into the lighthouse's tower.)
posted by tobascodagama at 6:54 PM on February 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


One thing my partner and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out afterward is what made Kane and Lena so special that their doppelgangers got to leave when nobody else's did. Kane couldn't have been the only married man to go in, right? In the end, we decided that Kane's doppelganger left Area X because his motivations changed while inside the border.

Maybe because they are breeders, a breeding pair to enter? The lesbian character dies, the former mom character dies. Cancer lady isn't having kids, Josie the brain is into exploration.

maybe he came out because he went in seeking to solve the problem of Lena cheating on him? i suppose he was trying to solve the social problems involved with a breeding pair, so the solution was to replace himself with a doppelganger as he thought he was being replaced? or..

Fire, entropy, is still a constant. Wild that the seed then reproduces the fire.
posted by eustatic at 8:11 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


This movie is really sticking in my head, I'm not sure that's good or bad but at least I didn't have a bear-thing nightmare last night.
posted by octothorpe at 4:34 AM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm feeling a bit uncertain about the movie. Primarily because the spreading fire element broke my suspension of disbelief, and everything after that moment was the same "... or was it?" stinger that's been a staple of sci-fi horror for decades. I think keeping the Shimmer would have saved that ending for me. As it was, it felt like a tidy wrapper that undermined the theme of inexplicable nature.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:03 AM on February 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


If you have a desperate need to trip yourself the fuck out but can't get back to the movie theater, the soundtrack is on YouTube. Here's the piece that accompanied the "alien" scene.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:57 AM on February 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


Although maybe my disappointment with the ending is that I'm a bit too clever (and spoiled from the book) and quickly figured out from the tattoo that epilogue Lena had been changed.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:18 PM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


Interesting to see people think that she's not a full on alien coming out of the shimmer. To me there's a few pieces that cast her as fully alien in the finale. First, we see Kane with his doppleganger, and then Kane die, meaning it's clearly not original Kane making it out of the shimmer. Then we see the shimmer in his eyes in the final shot mirrored close to exactly in hers. Personally I took those two facts to be saying she's not original Biologist, and that perhaps some of the tale we just heard was created by the alien presence. I don't know if it's a malevolent being, but it seemed just from the set up to be present in both of them fully.
posted by Carillon at 2:56 PM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


...does anyone know why Kane had an accent in that last video? He didn't have one anywhere else, right?!

(I love the books and had mixed feelings about the movie, although it was stupidly beautiful. I will probably watch it one thousand times just for the visuals. But I'm really stuck on that accent.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:08 PM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


I can't answer the "why" part (I think someone else on his expedition might have had that accent, back in the "For Those Who Follow" video, but I can't recall for sure), however it's true that he didn't have that accent outside of that scene.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:05 PM on February 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


I was wondering about that too. that a member of his expedition had that accent would make sense to me though --
it's like he's not even sure who he was when he came in anymore. like not only does he not know whether he's kane or whether the double is kane, he doesn't even really know who "kane" is/was anymore as compared to any other human that the Shimmer is working with at that time
posted by Kybard at 5:23 PM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


I haven't read the book and I HATED the movie. Thought it was the worst-acted movie I've seen in years and the dumbest sci fi flick since Dreamcatcher. I literally LOL'd at the alligator and the bear creature.

That said, I did go to a sneak preview of it with the director in attendance.

He did say that he read the book when it came out and never re-read it when, years later, he was adapting it to a movie. He therefore considers it an "impression" of the book more than an "adaptation".

I thought this was interesting enough to relay to those who were curious why it didn't "follow" the book.

The only thing I liked about the movie was the closing credits and the music accompanying it.
posted by dobbs at 8:03 PM on February 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


I rarely feel that a movie adaptation outshines its source material, but it happened for me here. It's been about a year since I read the books, but if memory serves, the movie's ending -- much different from the ending of the first book -- precludes telling the stories of the final two books as sequels. So in my mind, I'm comparing the complete story told in this one movie to the complete story told in the three books -- and in my mind, the movie is the better story, and has a *much* more satisfying ending.

Also: With respect to the look of things inside the boundary of the shimmer -- it is astounding how close that all looked to what I saw in my mind's eye when I read the books. It was every bit as beautiful and creepy and colorful and bizarre as I had imagined.

Also also: Jennifer Jason Leigh *was* the psychologist. Absolutely nailed that character.
posted by /\/\/\/ at 8:33 PM on February 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


I thought the book was very good - Vandermeer is one of the very few living 'genre' authors whose writing transcends their niche in some way, and was sad to see that Garland discarded the most interesting bits of the original work - I was hoping the dumbing-down would be minimal but apparently not - he seems to have skimmed through rather than attentively read the thing even before not going back to it at all to guide the screenplay, and so his supposed 'impression' is pretty far from the source - they should have used a different title (the literal-minded re-contextualisation of the word 'Annihilation' in the film was one of its worst offences, amongst many, against subtlety).

Losing all the tower/tunnel and textual stuff was a serious misstep too... This film could have been so much better as a stricter, and in that way far stranger, adaptation - with slower pacing, no character names (and yes, this can work, see Stalker for evidence), only very minimal dialogue, only very minor flashbacks (the childhood remembrances of the biologist from the book were at least as important in establishing what we needed to know about her character - and we don't need to know that much - as those of her relationship with the husband), none of the CGI soap-bubbles all over everything and silly adolescent action sequences. It all smacks of compromise with the studio before they even tried to meddle with the project , which was in any case inevitable with a mainstream writer/director attached (I would have loved to have seen this material in the hands of someone like Shane Carruth instead of Garland, and produced without any studio interference or pressure). It's hard to imagine, and slightly disturbing, that anyone, Paramount exec or not, could have found this film 'too intellectual'.

The book works very well as a self-contained standalone (it's not at all necessary to go on with the sequels, which are lesser in almost every way) without any need to rejig the plot, let alone tacking on this terrible new ending. It's a missed opportunity that won't happen again anytime soon. The praise being heaped upon this thing by the critics is baffling to say the least.
posted by remembrancer at 9:12 AM on February 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


SCANDAL! It turns out that the hybrid creatures in Annihilation are actually just unlicensed Pokemon.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:18 PM on February 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


The book is a rare touchstone that can help you understand self-destructive behavior. The film was notable, to me at least, because it features an all-female ensemble cast, which is rare for Hollywood. I thought Natalie Portman gave a fantastic performance, and my only quibble is that it seems that all female sci-fi heroines are carbon copies of Signorney Weaver's Ripley from "Aliens" onward.

*minor spoiler*

The nameless "biologist" of the book has a troubled marriage because she is emotionally unavailable to her spouse. In the film, she has an affair with a colleague. The scene where she realizes that her actions are wrong and can't continue is a standout in my mind to the meatiness of Portman's performance. When she kicks out her lover and ends the affair, she lashes out at her colleague and reassures him that she feels hatred toward him, while he insists that she is overcome with self-loathing. There is a magnificent tension here that I really appreciated, and I got the sense that Portman was overcome with a the kind of disgust that a true human being likely would be in such a scenario.

Granted, you have to ignore the way the narrative sets up the affair to get to my point, since the story as told makes it clear that she is holding a torch for her husband, who has disappeared for a year without explanation (when he returns, I expected "Unchained Melody" to start playing spontaneously in the background a la "Ghost") and it's made clear that the colleague initiated the affair, but if you can set aside those narrative devices and latch onto an almost throwaway line of dialogue from one of Portman's co-stars about how it's hard to fathom why people do things that upset a happy marriage, then her character comes across as someone who feels earnest sexual desire in a way that can't quite be contained, and one who comes to the understanding that her marriage isn't a happy one, which explains why she would do things that would destroy it. So, I'm giving a selective and parsed (from the novel) reading, but that's because I can't think of the last time I saw a female protagonist drawn so richly with such a full range of human emotion, outside of "Anomalisa," at least.

And the film is tanking at the box office, making the completion of the trilogy unlikely. Boo! I think it's still worth seeing even if you reject what I liked about it. The soundtrack is amazing. At one point, it transforms from a two note "Deliverance"-style dirge to "holy shit, is this what it's like to be at the Spring Awakening Music Festival?" I really really really liked this movie.
posted by Mr. Fig at 6:32 AM on March 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


Eco-Horror, Climate Change, and Alex Garland's Annihilation by David O' Donoghue: "You’ll note very quickly that none of the characters are given names and are instead referred to by their profession and the utility they provide to the expedition into ‘Area X’; The Biologist, The Psychologist and so on. This is because the terror of the text comes not from gruesome deaths but from the idea that this alien force has come to strip away all the trappings of man’s long effort to establish an anthropocentric order out of the wilderness of nature."

Annihilation Reminds Us Why We Need Ecological Horror Stories by Maddie Stone: "In both our world and the fictional world of the Southern Reach, humans have recognized the clear and present danger—the loss of control—and are responding with science, denial of scientific realities, military force, isolation, and fear. If the film were to follow the arc to the books, this would ultimately end in acceptance."

My own take, recycled from a Facebook post:
The book strikes me as a parable of global warming & other cascading environmental destructions. Like global warming, the processes within Area X are unpredictable. We believe we can contain it with science & military power, but we can't.

The movie seems to focus on the human element of the relationship between Lena & the unknowns she encounters here. The idea of death of the ego is present in the "splicing" of humans with other lifeforms, the blurring of boundaries between self & duplicates, and the alien intelligence reflecting/refracting what the humans bring into it. For the humans, the ego is both a necessity and a burden. Without the specifics of the ego, the duplicates are "empty" like the Kane-double. But the ego brings humans pain, like it does for Josie. Like Ventress says, we can't just kill ourselves straight out, we find ways of self-destructing.

The movie seems to deal with species-level drive to self-destruct. Maybe the alien intelligence is only amplifying and reflecting our drive to die into an extinction-level death wish, as Ventress says before she dissolves. In the end, Kane & Lena get the self-destruction they crave, since neither could be said to be the same person they were when they entered Area X. Lena says the intelligence is "making something new." Maybe the thing it's making is what might come after humanity if we can purge our drive to self-destruct.

Or maybe the new thing it's making is a world in which humanity's destruction is neutralized by reabsorption into the ecosystem.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:54 AM on March 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


Primarily because the spreading fire element broke my suspension of disbelief

Shimmer was in a highly mimetic mode as the blank humanoid learned to be/mimic Lena. She taught it to be phosphorus fire, which was incompatible with the rest of what it was being. Thematically, it learned self-destruction.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 2:38 PM on March 3, 2018 [25 favorites]


My theory about Kane's doppelganger coming back is that he's the only one that told his doppelganger to go back. As is stated by doppelgangers multiple times, the shimmer doesn't want anything. It doesn't have motivations or plans like humans do. It just exists, and changes and reproduces and recombines things because it's incapable of not doing so.
posted by idiopath at 6:27 PM on March 3, 2018 [10 favorites]


Huh. Simple, but it makes sense.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:28 PM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


The more I think about it, the more it reminds me of a computer, but biological - it consumes data, it recombines it, it follows instructions, it does terrible things because of simple mistakes but without malice (and beautiful things because it was fed data to do so, and not inspiration or benevolence).
posted by idiopath at 6:31 PM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm reminded of the Jewish story of the golem. It is constructed from a malleable raw material, it is brought to life by encoded information used in an ecstatic context, and it carries things out literally.
posted by idiopath at 7:14 PM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Not exactly I movie I enjoyed, but it definitely has sunk some hyphae into my brain. My favourite scene has to be Lena vs. her double in the lighthouse. I love that it was done without CGI, and a very cool way for Garland to collaborate with Sonoya Mizuno again. I've been thinking about why the prospect of meeting your own double is so horrifying. I suppose facing your own flaws and neuroses in another self is too much for a person to bear.
posted by Rora at 12:54 PM on March 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


I liked the book a great deal, and I liked the adaptation. I'm not really sure what those who feel like this is a failed adaptation feel is missing from the movie. The tunnel/tower thing is basically unfilmable by its very nature. I suppose some of the hypnosis stuff would have been cool, and the bit about (book spoilers) this actually the 50th expedition or so. The big pile of journals is a very cool image in the books but I think it would be faintly ridiculous on the big screen. Overall I felt like the movie captured the tone and feeling of the book quite well, which was the thing I was most worried about.
posted by whir at 4:43 PM on March 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


I absolutely loved every frame of this movie. I read the book (only the first book) and liked it okay. I wasn't blown away by it. I thought it was kind of boring but every now and then would catch me by surprise enough to keep reading. I like an unreliable narrator.

This movie though...WHOA. I loved all the actresses, the weird sound design, the juxtaposition of the indie-sounding guitar music with the BWOOOONG approaching dread music and whatever that horrific sound the Lena double was making. That sound and the horrific bear monster scream made me flinch.

The found footage video of Kane and his teammate was perhaps the most horrific bit of body horror I've ever seen. Oscar Isaac's slightly unhinged performance in that scene and the, "See? Look? See?" and the guy hyperventilating, and my reaction, "WHY IS HE CUTTING HIM OPEN...WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? Aaaand I'm done with my popcorn."

I actually really loved Tessa Thompson and her character's decision. I loved the look of this movie, all the bright, beautiful flowers and the wrongness of it. I'd like to rewatch this with my husband and get his thoughts on it, but he haaaates gore and body horror.
posted by Aquifer at 5:51 PM on March 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


I saw it today and loved it; I have not read the book. It seemed to me to be like someone taking the basic premise of John Carpenter's The Thing and put their own peculiar and very, very dreamlike stamp on it. Even before the funky plants and monsters started appearing, their losing memory of several days upon entering the Shimmer helped set the tone. Anya's tying up the rest of the group also reminded me of the similar scene in The Thing. The ending seemed a little pat, both with the source of the Shimmer being wiped out and the "...but was it?" last scene, but this is indeed a movie that I'd like to revisit.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:28 PM on March 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


GenderNullPointerException: I was watching the tattoo closely, and I didn't notice it switch arms in the final scene. In fact, I thought that when the entity became fully "clad" as Lena, the tattoo was on the left arm in both instances (i.e. it was a true double, and not a mirror). When they flashed on Lena's tattoo at the end, I thought "ah hah!" but then immediately had doubts.

I've got several reasons to watch this again, and I'll certainly be watching that tattoo closely in subsequent viewings.

was the tattoo in this film not the same as the one on Takeshi Kovacs in Altered Carbon?
posted by deadbilly at 1:34 AM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


Ok, it's been 48 hours and I can't stop thinking about this movie. Also I take back what I previously said about the horror of encountering your double. The horror of the double is if the double is you, then what have you become? ("Are you me? Am I you?" I need a transcript of Kane's video.) I've never seen a movie that captures insanity as well as this.
posted by Rora at 5:45 PM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


I just saw this, and liked it. I haven't read the book, so I don't have that to compare it to that. I had read the thematically similar fictional blog linked from an FPP, and the trailer struck me so like it that they've been twisting together in my hindbrain already.

That bear-thing (apparently, named "Paddington" by Garland) was the creepiest thing I've seen (and heard) in a movie in a long time.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:30 PM on March 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


If you have read the book and didn't like it, I have great news for you because this movie is almost nothing like the book.

This is a very depressing first comment tp read because I thought that the movie was decent but tried to express a bunch of ideas that were surely better in the raw text. Ah well. 3/5 for quality for me, but 4/5 for stick-in-your-head-ness. 2/5 for the effects, which I thought were pretty CGI-as-hell across the board.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:34 PM on March 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


It’s definitely very derivative of quite a few similar movies: Solaris, The Thing, Alien/Aliens but I love those films and this doesn't seem to have the copy-paste mash-up feeling that something like Stranger Things does.

Glad to see other people thinking about this in the context of Solaris and The Thing (especially the short story “The Things”. It also reminded me a great deal of Sunshine, or at least the characters’ growing obsession in it with the sun as an idol. The genre of “ambivalent alien” has a great deal of appeal to me, given that we all seem to be at the mercy of such potent external forces for much of our lives.

It’s particularly interesting to see the global warming takes and the attempts to unpack the shimmer here, because to me the movie seemed like a story about people trying to react or adjust to trauma - whether to confront it, or be transformed by it, or hide from it, with the shimmer as a pretty flexible cover for that. The themes are all readable into it, of course; there’s a reason that the unknown is so compelling. I only remark on it because the sci-fi seemed so optional, but that perhaps says more about me at the moment.

The two things I really wish the movie had done were:
  • Make a stronger nod towards the idea that “we probed this thing one or twice for five minutes but got nothing out of it, it’s just a swamp in there”. The notion that they keep sending people into this place on long recon missions instead of even one short day trips really felt nuts. Like, the Shimmer is introduced as a phenomenon that they’ve been studying for some time and yet they can’t be bothered to just step in and out for five minutes?
  • Paint a stronger portrait of the women as a coherent group before they get sent into the Shimmer. Ventress and Lena are obviously outsiders, but the others are really given very little sense of common ground. These are characters who have spent at least two months in close proximity but they seem to generally be uncomfortable in front of each other. It’d be nice if they’d been more relaxed, more fluid. The lack of that coherence made their individual traumas pop a little more, maybe, but I do think it hurt the general feel of the world as a whole.

posted by Going To Maine at 11:29 PM on March 10, 2018 [9 favorites]


I just saw this, and liked it. I haven’t read the book, so I don't have that to compare it to that. I had read the thematically similar fictional blog linked from an FPP, and the trailer struck me so like it that they've been twisting together in my hindbrain already.

Hah! I was trying to remember that blog the entire time I watched this. Back when that was posted it had seemed clever, but having seen this I’m not kind of suspicious that the blogger was trying to pay some homage to VanderMeer and didn’t quite manage to get far enough away from the source material.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:44 PM on March 10, 2018


As they were walking into the shimmer, I did balk at the NOBODY HAS EVER COME OUT OF THE SHIMMER doom-speak earlier in the film because, I mean, nobody has done a mission where they go 100 feet into the shimmer on tethers or something and if they don't walk out in 15 minutes they get pulled out or something?
posted by rmd1023 at 7:55 AM on March 11, 2018 [5 favorites]


Yes, exactly. To me it felt very deliberately ham-handed: "Oh, you want an action movie about a squad of dudes getting to the source of an alien disturbance? Well, this is not gonna be that, and I'm going to flag that by making the military setup and procedures deliberately garbage."
posted by Going To Maine at 11:47 AM on March 11, 2018


“Nobody has come out of the shimmer” is one of the movie’s many departures from the book, and I can’t think of any good reason to make that change. It just makes the whole thing dumber and less realistic, particularly in a universe where the govt org in charge has the power and coordination to have a swat team intercept an ambulance.
posted by mrmurbles at 11:43 PM on March 11, 2018


This is available on Netflix now for folks outside the US, Canada, and China.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:31 AM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


I saw this last night and while at first I was all "THIS IS NOTHING LIKE GORAM BOOK DAMMIT!", I soon forgot all about that.

The comparisons to the more recent Solaris are bang on IMO, and I loved that movie too. Many of the same themes, and very similar in that it's a film about feeling and tone and just going along for the ride. If you're looking for snappy dialogue and a "story", this isn't the movie for you.

I will need to see this again, because I was a bit jarred out of it by comparing it to the book (which I love, in part because it's so much about tone and impressions, JUST LIKE THE MOVIE, ironically). It's so beautiful and horrifying (the screaming bear thing...). Alex Garland still holds my personal record for Best Debut Novel, and so far he hasn't done anything I haven't liked in any format.

I loved how the little domestic bliss scenes, with everything so clean, contrasted with the grimy discomfort in the Shimmer.

I loved how the house they spent the night in in the Shimmer was the same layout as Lena and Kane's house. And how Lena stares at the picture on the wall by the stairs just like not-Kane does when he first returns to the outside world.

I also really respected the fact that the all-woman team actually knew their shit, didn't get all stereotypically girly-stupid about things, and how Natalie Portman shows us that Lena really was a soldier when she kills the not-alligator. There were some brave acting choices in this movie.

It had never occurred to me that the reason the word "alligator" is never used in the book was because the word had been erased from their memories, I always assumed that it was because they weren't really alligators anymore. They aren't really alligators anymore in the movie either.

I loved this movie. One of the most visually amazing movies I've seen, amazing soundtrack, wonderful and low key acting. Just amazing. But I expect some will hate it, some will be left cold by it, and some will wish it had been different. I really enjoyed the ride.
posted by biscotti at 3:18 AM on March 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


I've been listening to the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album pretty heavily after seeing this movie and loving how surprising and effective "Helplessly Hoping" was in it.
posted by octothorpe at 7:11 AM on March 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


"They are three, together" certainly takes on a new shade.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:59 AM on March 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


A decent movie with a lot of unanswered questions. Was she gone for two weeks or four months, and how is it relevant? Instant "The Thing" vibe from the meteor shot, and many more "this is The Thing on LSD" vibes throughout. "I don't know" was said waaaaay too often. When you fly a helicopter to the lighthouse, what happens? Why did they enter through the swamp/jungle? Is there no road along the coast to the lighthouse? Just bomb the shit out of the lighthouse already. Too much cribbing from The Thing and Alien (isolation, betrayal, lone survivor, body horror, "uncaring" alien that deliberately mindfucks it's victims), and really, two Natalie Portman orgasms?
posted by Brocktoon at 3:34 AM on March 15, 2018


Watched Tarkovsky's Stalker last night and as was noted in many places, Annihilation really owes a lot to that film. The basic plot is the same and Garland stole quite a bit of imagery from it. I've been meaning to watch it for a while but finally got around to in preparation for listening to the current Next Picture Show podcast that pairs the two films.

As you'd expect for a Russian science fiction film, Stalker is for those people who thought that Annihilation was too fast moving and easy to understand.
posted by octothorpe at 2:56 PM on March 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


Surprised no one has mentioned Under the Skin which I feel makes a fantastic companion piece to this movie. Slow, bleak, inscrutable sci-fi with profoundly uncomfortable soundtrack? Yes please.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:22 AM on March 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


Funny you should mention that, slimepuppy, just an hour ago I was reading a (spoiler-free) review on one of my favourite Tumblrs that likened them to each other.

(link is to the author's movie blog though, I've noticed a lot of people here don't seem to like Tumblr links.)
posted by pseudonymph at 2:16 AM on March 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Surprised that nobody mentioned Kane/Genesis Cain in these discussions.

When we see Kane talk about leaving Lena suddenly, he's lying. A man's lie to a woman lands him back in the garden of Eden. But she's still the one who initially tricked him by having an affair. She was tempted, just like Eve. The story's just... a mutation of the original Eve story.

When we see "Kane" talking about what happens when a phosphorus bomb goes off, I thought, "I bet it makes a pleasing smell of sacrifice unto the Lord. Sort of like what we saw in Genesis with warring brothers Cain and Abel, after Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden."

While Abel sacrifices lambs and "cuts out the best parts, including the fat," it mirrors the scene where Kane is eviscerating his fellow soldier.

Kane's "brother" is cast out of the Shimmer, out of the Garden, by Other!Kane (Abel?). I realize these don't exactly match up, but they're way too similar to be a coincidence.

Genesis 4:15: "The Lord put a sign on Cain so that no one who found him would assault him. 16 Cain left the Lord’s presence, and he settled down in the land of Nod, east of Eden."

Is Cain's mark the Ouroboros tattoo? The winding serpent devouring its own tail, the serpent that caused Man to be cast out of the Garden forever after corrupting Woman?

Ventress says early on to Lena: "You're a soldier, and you're a scientist. You can fight the Shimmer, and you can learn it."

Literally all the foreshadowing I needed to understand Lena's character arc.

Now the new Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden/Shimmer, and they can never return. Because she who bore the Serpent/Ouroboros' mark destroyed it. But now Adam and Eve (Lena and Kane) are cast out East of Nod, and wandering the Earth to start their new lives...

Surely I'm not the only one who got a strong Biblical vibe from this film, right? Josie happily accepting her return to the garden by spontaneously sprouting branches and flowers, a peaceful acceptance of the return of innocence she once lost?

I'm going to buy this when it comes out on Blu-Ray and pick apart every frame. Brilliant!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:51 AM on March 18, 2018 [7 favorites]


Watched this on UK Netflix last night. Really enjoyed most of it and haven't read the book.

As they were walking into the shimmer, I did balk at the NOBODY HAS EVER COME OUT OF THE SHIMMER doom-speak earlier in the film because, I mean, nobody has done a mission where they go 100 feet into the shimmer on tethers or something and if they don't walk out in 15 minutes they get pulled out or something?

Yeah - we can't use radio signals but why not run a massive cable in there?

Was she gone for two weeks or four months, and how is it relevant?

I'd forgotten about this until I read your comment, guess the alien took a while to find its way out and doesn't need to eat?
posted by toamouse at 2:57 PM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yeah - we can't use radio signals but why not run a massive cable in there?

I think for most of these logistical questions, you can assume the answer is "We tried it, it didn't work, but the newbies don't need to hear all the gory details."
posted by tobascodagama at 5:08 PM on March 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'd wanted to see this but got a bad cold, finally got to the theater. For an "unsuccessful" film it sure has legs, the smaller discount auditorium was filled. I was disappointed that the ending went mano-a-mano theatrical and some of the threads like the affair and the instant morphing that was startrekish, but it was a hollywood movie and was not lacking in spooky ambiguity. Reading about it a bit I was nervous the body horror elements would be too much but no nightmares. ;-) It was good that they skipped the hypnosis element I thought that was the lamest part of the book. If they'd spent more time with the other members earlier the choices in the area would have been more satisfyingly horrific. Choosing to walk off to become a plant is pretty horrendous but it was more of a weird moment. The plot holes of an impenetrable shimmer wall that can be walked through but no communication, why not run a long cable and just use tugs to send morse code -- but that's not the point. It was definitely worth seeing in a theater! The end title graphics were incredibly beautiful.
posted by sammyo at 10:15 AM on March 21, 2018


Saw this last night. Incredible- not sure if I got all of it. The "reflect, refract" theme was presented over and over - shots through windows, glasses of water, plastic sheeting, cameras.

The crystalline trees, shedding in the wind, almost like fungal spores - quite an image.

The only thing that took me out was the very fake looking lichen on the trees - I've spent so much time in that part of the Golf coast I would expect technicolor Spanish moss.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:26 PM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I finally got around to reading this thread today and I was initially puzzled by the references to the distorted music soundtrack when Lena confronts the humanoid at the end. It didn’t even register to me as soundtrack: the repeated two-note motif sounded like horns trying to say “Lena.” I thought it was some quasi-intelligence (her doppelgänger and/or the remnants of Ventress’ consciousness) trying to communicate.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:09 PM on March 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think for most of these logistical questions, you can assume the answer is "We tried it, it didn't work, but the newbies don't need to hear all the gory details."

The books go into this a lot more, apparently. The edge of the shimmer is itself essentially unknowable. And at the climax they find hundreds of previous expedition journals.

But if you're looking for realistic milsim tactics in your eerie Lovecraft/Tarkovsky scifi, you have taken a wrong turn a few miles back.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:46 PM on March 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


The film was notable, to me at least, because it features an all-female ensemble cast, which is rare for Hollywood.

I think if the movie had a higher profile it would be the target of the MRA types. If I am not mistaken, the only time a white man even speaks in it is when the poor unfortunate blond soldier is getting vivisected by Kane, and his dialogue might be limited to “Yeah” and a couple of pained/dazed grunts.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:32 PM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


Wait, I am mistaken: I guess the paramedic had a line or two. Finally some representation!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:55 PM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


The infinite ouroboros tattoo that we first see on Lena's arm and then on the lichen-ified soldier in the pool apparently -- my partner noticed this, not me -- pops up on Anya's arm at one point.

I have now seen the film again and can confirm: the morning after Cass has been taken by the bear-thing and Ventress announces she is setting out for the lighthouse, the tattoo is on Anya’s arm. I did not see it on Lena’s until after Anya’s death
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:06 PM on March 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Loved the book.

Hated the movie.

The movie was dumbed-down and overexplained and had a lame ending tacked on.

Grr.
posted by kyrademon at 6:19 PM on April 7, 2018


I loved it, haven’t read the book yet. I got a bit of a Heart of Darkness vibe - a journey into places we don’t want to admit exist, confronting the darkness within ourselves. I don’t know who is present at the end, a changed Lena or a doppelgänger with her memories which may or may not have an ulterior motive. But I do feel like Lena survives (for a certain definition of survive) because of her willingness to let herself be changed. And I think that works whether you see the Shimmer as a metaphor for trauma or climate change or whatever.
posted by harriet vane at 7:21 PM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


What a disappointment. It was frustrating that they had all these female scientist characters, yet they were made to follow horror movie stupidity rules, camping at massacre sites, fighting with each other instead of banding together, and splitting up and running alone into danger again and again.

When they introduced the Shimmer early on and said that they were sending an investigative team, I thought that the phenomenon and its rules would be explained. Yet it was written like a mystery box story with no answer inside: their explanations--involving DNA but also "refraction"--were just gobbledygook, resulting in a film in which what we actually know of science is meaningless and anything can happen.

And the events were neither effective nor original, in my opinion, often silly. In addition to the influences others mentioned, I felt like they took a page from Kairo (non-human human shapes everywhere), The Last of Us (people turning into fungus), The Blair Witch Project and/or The Terminator films (the monster stealing the voice of its victims), and Ballard's "The Illuminated Man," (expanding lethal zone with crystal trees), and in all cases the earlier work was more effective.

I think that I as a viewer need to finally learn that Garland does not actually write science fiction. He has written several things that look like it... This film and Sunshine were both straight-up horror movies, and Ex Machina was more about domestic abuse than AI. Science is just atmosphere. This film has a lot in common with The Abyss in that way, yet I would find it easy to name a lot of things that The Abyss did right that made the film work and I can't do that for Annihilation.
posted by heatvision at 4:24 AM on April 10, 2018


Science is just atmosphere

I mean, this is true for the vast majority of science fiction, including the original book.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:40 PM on April 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


> "... this is true for the vast majority of science fiction, including the original book."

True, but at least in the book they have the more of the actual reaction that scientists would have, i.e. more along the lines of "WTF THIS MAKES NO SENSE! NONE OF THIS MAKES SENSE! AAAAA! AAAAA!" rather than "Hm, I think it's refracting DNA!"
posted by kyrademon at 11:29 AM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


> Lena is reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta Lacks was a woman whose cancer cells, harvested without her consent, continued to propagate long after her death, which allowed significant strides in cancer research.

At the very beginning of the film Lena is shown teaching a class and she says something along the lines of, and this is paraphrased, "During this course we'll be studying the cells of a woman aged 31 who something something cervical cancer" or however it was they said it anyway point is: very early Henrietta Lacks reference and great foreshadowing on the whole theme of propagation.
posted by komara at 7:43 PM on April 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


I just read the book and while I didn't hate it, it didn't do much for me. I didn't really like the writing style and really didn't buy the idea that we were reading her journal. I'm glad that I didn't read the book before seeing the film as it would have been a distraction and I'm also glad that Garland tossed out most of the the book since I don't see how much of it would be filmable.
posted by octothorpe at 7:08 AM on April 30, 2018


If it was going to be like that it needed to be more beautiful. There was artisty missing in the cinematography, I guess. They made some cool props, like a corrupted lamp post, or some crystal trees on a beach, but they just sort of stuck them into the frame in ways that made them very much look like props a lot of the time. None of the shots really took my breath away up until the last few minutes with the chaos mime, taking the sparkling phosphorus fire into its nature.. That was gorgeous.

The chaos seed looked neat enough I guess but a bit screensavery/demoscene yaknow.

I loved JJL. I wish they'd kept the hypnosis, the movie's namesake moment, and used JJL more. I do wish they'd gone weirder and more spare and less named, and less fucking marital status stuff, rolling my fucking eyes so hard, do not make your existential horror movie so flimsy you can fold it up and fit it in a relationship status box, yea fuck you too The Fountain.

Other characters did way too much telling. "I lost my daughter. In a way it's a double loss, losing my little girl, and the person I was. It's like I was annihilated. I'm telling you this as we row this boat, above our reflections blah blah blah."

The bear was creepy but that scene was kinda bad; too much mute panic reaction, not really set up or earned. "Maybe we're going crazy now, like they did. That is the thing that's happening now." (305237th reaction shot of the other characters gagged and worried not able to actually express or do anything, pointless.)

Like with Arrival why the fuck is academia/science so slick and shiny and sterile and 50 Shades aspirational faux posh business park shit, now? Flattery to the desired audience? The Southern Reach building is not like that, it's shabby, it has to be shabby, real, arbitrary. You should look at that building and feel aggrieved at how bland and specific it is, and wonder why it should it exist any more than the zone should swallow it up. Everyone's life is a sad waste, they're unravelling and dissolving, pathetically specific.
posted by fleacircus at 10:18 PM on May 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


It's my own fault I suppose, but I went into this expecting a sci-fi mystery like The X-Files and got a violent and gory psychological horror movie. If I had been at a theater I would have walked out. (Honestly it upset me enough that I probably would have also argued with the manager about a refund.) As it is I wound up having to leave the room. Then, after all of that, the third act made me so anxious and angry that by the end I felt like I wanted to punch Garland in the mouth.

That said, Portman is really excellent in this picture. The cinematography is nice and the effects are mostly pretty good. The score was quite atmospheric and effective until it switched to mostly Inception farts at the end.

Anyway, suffice it to say, I didn't like it.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:42 PM on June 1, 2018


The 4K HDR blu-ray is out and it looks really nice (well the parts in Area X anyway) but it doesn't make the film any smarter.

I mean, why would an unfathomable alien life force know, or give a shit about oroboros infinity tattoos? Upon rewatch that completely does my head in.
posted by glonous keming at 3:49 PM on June 3, 2018


Someone who went into the area had that tattoo and it began to replicate it as a feature humans should have.
posted by tofu_crouton at 3:51 PM on June 3, 2018 [8 favorites]


If that works for you, then cool. Presumably it works for Garland.

For me it doesn't work at all. Where are the genes for snake tattoos expressed in the genome?

If it's just creating physical doubles of stuff then why isn't it turning everyone and everything into a copy of the lighthouse keeper? I know the lighthouse keeper character isn't in the movie but let's just for the sake of argument assume that a theoretical lighthouse keeper would have been the first person the meteorite interacted with.

To me the tattoo is like a Chekov's Gun misfire. I think we're meant to think the tattoo is a signifier for a zone-created double, but if that's so, then how come the tattoo is starting to appear on the Biologist's arm right after the encounter with the giant aligator early in the trip? Articles I've read online breathlessly state that it was obvious from the very beginning of the film that the Biologist was a double because look at the tattoo, but that makes no sense if the tattoo starts appearing on people just for entering Area X.

The tattoo thing feels, to me, like something that maybe was supposed to make internal-logic sense but somehow the scene(s) that pulled the tattoo stuff together didn't make the final cut and it was left in as just some disconcerting red herring theory bait for viewers to latch on to. Like, "Eh, leave it in, it'll be *airquotes* "mysterious"."

Or maybe just lazy-thought film-making.
posted by glonous keming at 7:25 PM on June 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think we're meant to think the tattoo is a signifier for a zone-created double, but if that's so, then how come the tattoo is starting to appear on the Biologist's arm right after the encounter with the giant aligator early in the trip?

Thinking of it as making doubles is too simple. It changes the things that go in, starts blending them with other things and blurring things around. The tattoo appearing doesn't mean she's a double, it means the area has started changing her.

Even at the end, we don't know that she's a double. We only know that she's been changed, and is still changing,and we don't know how much of the original is left.

If it's just creating physical doubles of stuff then why isn't it turning everyone and everything into a copy of the lighthouse keeper?

It's a lovecraftian horror. It's overwhelmingly powerful but insane; a classic blind idiot god.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:50 PM on June 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


It reminds me of the video clip of a frog that got run through google deep dream - blind idiot manipulations and madness-inducing results.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:09 AM on June 4, 2018


Yeah, the effects team had to have been inspired by Deep Dream for the design of the Border, if nothing else.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:13 AM on June 4, 2018


So we watched this on Netflix tonight and at the end, when Lena's double/alien comes after her, our dog went absolutely apeshit. He was fast asleep but the weird music woke him up. He jumped down from his chair, and, growling and whining, stared at the images on the TV. He got so worked up we had to hold him and calm him down. He was just shaking and shaking. I have never seen him that scared before!

So, in other words, nice work soundtrack composer.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:07 AM on October 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


a violent and gory psychological horror movie.

This is such an interesting description to me because it is entirely correct but also not how I personally processed the film. I mentally elided the harder gore and only retained the weird atmosphere. A good note on the fragmentary nature of memory.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:07 AM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


I loved this so much. The soundtrack is really sticking with me, especially the alien theme from the end that’s almost rhythmically dancey. Thematically I thought it had a lot of horror/mindfuck parallels to The Gone World and I loved the casting.
posted by migurski at 11:58 PM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Folding Ideas did an absolutely excellent video about the film and about metaphor vs. literalism and it's so good I sort of want to do a whole FPP about it instead of sticking it here, but ah well, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URo66iLNEZw

choice excerpt, re the tattoo:

"This absorption is realized literally, with characters physically absorbing elements of each other as the film progresses. No better is this encapsulated than in the ouroboros tattoo. Anya has a tattoo of an ouroboros on her left forearm, a detail that's present from the beginning of the film but difficult to catch until later as the film gradually calls attention to it.

"The key turning point comes when the expedition reaches the former headquarters of the Southern Reach. In one of the film's few overtly horrifying scenes, the women come across a data card left behind by the previous expedition. On the card is a video file showing the team flaying one of their own, a soldier with an ouroboros tattoo just like Anya's, revealing his intestines writhing around like a coil of snakes. The final remains of this soldier are then found encased in lichen and mold, growing into the wall of the pool.

"Anya and the soldier are of the same. That is the meaning, or at least a meaning, of the shared tattoo. In the soldier, she sees herself. She realizes this fear, references it explicitly, when she later ties up the surviving members of the team ("If I let you go, and you tied me to a chair and cut me open, are my insides gonna move like my fingerprint?"). Her fear is that she has become like and as the soldier on the wall, but really, she already was.

"Then, in Lena's darkest moment, her absolute nadir following the deaths of Cassie and Anya, Ventress's departure, and Josie's transformation, when she is the most alone -- the tattoo appears on her arm.

"Lena has absorbed something of Anya, something that she will carry for the rest of her life. This is a good place, perhaps, to postulate on whether the soldier already had the tattoo before entering the Shimmer, or if it is, in some way, a manifestation of the Shimmer, and the answer is... that it doesn't matter, because no matter what the diegetic answer may be, the symbol has taken on meaning through its association with each of the characters. Where it came from is irrelevant next to what it indicates: the impact individuals have on one another; how we become impressed into each other and entwined; the ways that we see our selves, our fates, in complete strangers; a cycle of exchange without beginning or end."
posted by Kybard at 6:41 AM on November 1, 2018 [11 favorites]


Oh, man, that's a great essay. I'm 100% here for tearing down the anti-intellectual mode of film criticism.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:25 AM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


"Lena has absorbed something of Anya, something that she will carry for the rest of her life. This is a good place, perhaps, to postulate on whether the soldier already had the tattoo before entering the Shimmer, or if it is, in some way, a manifestation of the Shimmer, and the answer is... that it doesn't matter, because no matter what the diegetic answer may be, the symbol has taken on meaning through its association with each of the characters. Where it came from is irrelevant next to what it indicates: the impact individuals have on one another; how we become impressed into each other and entwined; the ways that we see our selves, our fates, in complete strangers; a cycle of exchange without beginning or end."

I want this person to play Vagrant Story, where this is kind of a central thing in the plot and everyone seems to miss when they play it. I feel like here is a person who is really getting an important thing.
posted by curious nu at 6:23 PM on November 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


We saw this today. Holy shit, I was not expecting to see Jane the Virgin get her face torn off by a bear!

Surprised that no-one in this thread mentioned Gareth Edwards Monsters. It seemed quite reminiscent in style to me.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 3:06 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I just ran across the fairly new duo of youtube film chit-chatters, Film Critters, and they did a A review of Annihilation. (Warning, they didn't like it very much.)
posted by fleacircus at 4:08 PM on January 13


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