February 22, 2018: Annihilation Review, Terrifying Sci-Fi Horror

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A Brief History

On February 22, 2018, we have only one more day to wait for the nationwide debut of the new film by Alex Garland, the screenwriter of 28 Days Later and Dredd, and the writer/director of Ex Machina. This time around Garland wrote the screenplay and directed Annihilation, a film based on the Jeff  VanderMeer novel by the same name.

Digging Deeper

The VanderMeer story is the first of the “Southern Reach Trilogy” of stories (2014), with Annihilation followed by Authority and Acceptance. Will the second and third novels in the series be adapted for film? We do not know, but it seems likely if Annihilation provides sufficient return on its $55 million investment. (We predict the movie will easily show an adequate profit.) The novels won awards and were well received by critics, so there is a solid base of fans of the stories.

This image is the front cover art for the book Annihilation written by Jeff VanderMeer. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, FSG, or the cover artist.


Starring Natalie Portman, a big time Hollywood A-Lister, the film is set in the American deep South along the coast (presumably the Gulf Coast?) in Area X, a remote, jungle like area of heavy foliage and bayous or swamps. Something strange is happening there, causing the government to evacuate a large area under the pretext of a chemical spill while they try to figure out how the “Shimmer” is affecting the area. Small expeditions into the affected area result in no persons or things that go in coming back out, until Natalie Portman’s character’s husband (played by Oscar Isaac) mysteriously reappears, though horribly ill from his experience after being missing in the Shimmer for a year.

Portman at the Cannes Film Festival, 2015


Natalie Portman, a biologist, is taken into custody by the Government, and is briefed on the details of the crisis surrounding the Shimmer. She insists on being allowed to accompany a four-woman expedition led by psychologist Dr. Ventress, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. The five women are well equipped and armed, and venture into the unknown in an effort to unlock the secrets of the Shimmer.

To avoid spoilers, we will stop telling details and let you enjoy the events as they unfold on the screen. The story is told with some flashbacks to provide background development of the relationship of Lena (Natalie Portman) and her husband, which slightly slows the pace of the film, but is necessary to provide context. Less well developed are the other women characters in the expedition, but they are well cast and the acting is top notch. Special effects are clear and stunning, and the audience is treated to pure terror at times throughout the film. Is the Shimmer caused by natural, Earthly sources? Is it a product of alien beings? Is there a supernatural aspect to it? What happened to the other expeditions? If you are familiar with the novels, you still will not know for sure about these questions because Garland took liberties with the screenplay to deviate from the novel for the movie.

The nightmarish expedition into the Shimmer at first inspires wonder and awe at the effects of the unknown power affecting the area, which quickly turns to unbridled terror. Jump scares are overlaid with a pall of doom over the ladies, leaving the movie fan with anticipation over how each member will “die.” Annihilation artfully leaves the viewer with questions about what is really going on, and what is really behind the Shimmer. The movie left us eagerly awaiting the next installment, and we think horror/sci-fi fans will feel the same way. At 115 minutes running time, the movie seems to be long enough to cover all the needed bases without seeming to be too long. Reports that producers wanted to re-edit the movie with some re-filmed parts are baffling to us, as we think the story is told quite well as it is. We are glad the movie was not altered.

We recommend Annihilation for all movie-goers interested in the horror/sci-fi genre where the government is confronted with a mysterious and dangerous phenomenon and tries mightily to keep the information from the public. Younger children and sensitive teens may be terrified by the tension and violence in the movie, factors which make the film highly enjoyable by all but the least stable kids. (Teaser: We loved the alligator!)

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

VanderMeer, Jeff. Annihilation. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2014.

VanderMeer, Jeff. Authority. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2014.

VanderMeer, Jeff. Acceptance. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2014.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.