Film: BFI London Film Festival Guide

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FILM REVIEW: Annihilation

Sci-fi is in an odd place right now. Given the immense success of the Star Wars reboots and the ever-growing Marvel franchise, you might be forgiven for thinking that the genre has never been stronger. Whilst these films are well worth the price of admission they couldn’t be further from the classics like Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey that originally defined the genre. Deep, thoughtful sci-fi of cinema past seems to be in short supply right now.

Enter Annihilation, the second directorial feature of cult hero Alex Garland and a sci-fi film that harkens back to the golden age of the genre, where filmmakers weren’t afraid to explore deeper themes and wacky ideas. It’s a tense, baffling, cool and at times maddening film that’s easily one of the best of the year so far and also a glorious reminder of how when sci-fi is done right, it can be a genre of almost transcendental brilliance. This is a film that needs to be seen, and will leave audiences of all tastes with something to mull over.

The story finds Lena (Natalie Portman) accompanying a group of researchers in exploration of an environmental phenomenon known as ‘The Shimmer’, through which is a zone full of mutating landscapes and strange creatures. What happens from here involves weirdness in abundance accompanied by the kind of astonishing images that leave a deep impression on the viewer’s mind. The final half hour will leave you gobsmacked.


Image Courtesy of Netflix

Garland’s last film Ex Machina demonstrated that a truly great director was in emergence and it’s wonderful to see that in this film he’s not only proven himself to have a clear voice as a filmmaker but is also moving the genre forwards. The mix of sound and visuals is jaw-dropping. The cinematography by Rob Hardy is achingly beautiful, the score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury will burrow its way into your ears for hours after, and Oscar Isaac and Portman’s performances suit the films eerie aesthetic beautifully. As director and screenwriter, Garland keeps the film focused in a way that few could manage and marks himself out as a sci-fi director far ahead of his contemporaries.

One of the film’s many qualities is its ability to surprise. Hard-core sci-fi fan, film-buff or simply someone looking for something decent to watch will all find something to take away from Annihilation, however impenetrable and strange it may appear. Annihilation is one of the year’s best films and is a truly modern spin on the genre that many young filmmakers will likely learn from and attempt to recreate in their own work.


Image Courtesy of Netflix

Annihilation is written and directed by Alex Garland. You can watch it on Netflix right now.
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