Sometimes, we (the rest of the world) get lucky because of something people in America do. In this case, it’s the fact that Annihilation didn’t get a theatrical release in Europe. And while it would have been a great film (because it’s visually overwhelming) to see in the cinema, it’s cool to see it so soon on the comforts of our own couch on Netflix. So couch potatoes can rejoice: Annihilation is a very cool new film on the streaming service.
Annihilet me explain what it’s about
Sorry, that was a terrible word play on the title. Mea culpa. Back to the film. Annihilation is based on the book with the same title by Jeff VanderMeer. It’s actually the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy. Now, I haven’t read any of the books so I can’t compare the book vs. the film. I’ve heard they aren’t completely similar to each other. That’s no huge surprise since adaptations hardly ever are 100% true to the book.
The summary the IMDb gives us is very, very short:
A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.
But in a nutshell, that’s the film. Natalie Portman is the biologist who wants to go on this mission because her husband went to the same area and got home really, really ill after a year M.I.A. Also, he is the only one ever to come back out alive. So, the biologist goes into The Shimmer with four other women, each with her own area of expertise. They need to find out what exactly is happening in this area, why it is expanding and why pretty much nobody gets out alive.
Why didn’t Annihilation get a theatrical release?
The film got into theaters in the States. But, testaudiences didn’t really appreciate the film. So, one of the dudes at Paramount figured it was ‘too intellectual’ and ‘too complicated’ because derpyderpderp. The movie should get some reshoots. Portman’s character would’ve been made more sympathetic and the ending different. Because if people in the States didn’t get it, this was probably a hard film to understand, right?
Luckily, director Alex Garland and producer Scott Rudin were smart and wanted to stick to their final product. And since Rudin had the final say, Annihilation stayed the same. A deal was struck between Paramount on the one side and Rudin/Garland on the other side: Paramount would distribute in the States, but the rest of the world would get to see Annihilation on Netflix. Garland was not too happy with his film going straight to Netflix:
We made the film for cinema. I’ve got no problem with the small screen at all. The best genre piece I’ve seen in a long time was The Handmaid’s Tale, so I think there’s incredible potential within that context, but if you’re doing that – you make it for that [medium] and you think of it in those terms. Look… it is what it is. The film is getting a theatrical release in the States, which I’m really pleased about.
One of the big pluses of Netflix is that it goes out to a lot of people and you don’t have that strange opening weekend thing where you’re wondering if anyone is going to turn up and then if they don’t, it vanishes from cinema screens in two weeks. So it’s got pluses and minuses, but from my point of view and the collective of the people who made it – [it was made] to be seen on a big screen.
Who was right? Garland or Paramount?
I’m team Garland all the way. I thoroughly enjoyed his previous film Ex Machina (which in its own way is equally weird and disturbing, and also features Oscar Isaac) and he wrote one of the best zombie films ever: 28 Days Later. I think Annihilation should be seen the way the writer/director/producer intended.
Annihilation is most of all a visual film. As soon as the team enters The Shimmer, things get… different. And it’s all so beautiful, so colorful and also so terrifying. The use of color, of visual effects and props is all done the right way and there’s not a single ugly shot. The scenery, background and the entire Area itself are a character on it’s own. If this wasn’t the place that lost a lot of people going in (we never get the exact number, but I reckon it’s a LOT), it might even be beautiful. Instead, it’s always slightly creepy and eerie.
But, it’s clear from the very start that this is a film in which four out of five team members don’t make it out of The Shimmer. So in a way, it’s just a very extremely different take on a slasher film. Who will die in what order? And the big questions in this case are: how and why? Because yes, something is very, very wrong in the area.
Annihilation should have gotten a worldwide theatrical release as it is. Still, I was lucky to have seen it this soon thanks to Netflix. It’s a very visually attractive film with not a brilliant plot. Yet the atmosphere and the five team members make this into something special. It’s a very enjoyable film if you’re into films that are just a bit on the weird side. And that ending… that was something special altogether. Without giving too much away: things get even better from the Lighthouse on. So grab yourself some snacks and put on Netflix. Click play and let yourself be taken away into The Shimmer!