Author Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy started with the novel Annihilation. In that book, four women identified only by their professions (biologist, psychologist, anthropologist, and surveyor) and given no physical descriptions beyond identifying the psychologist as the oldest member of the group, explore Area X for the Southern Reach Corporation. Area X is a mysterious place where strange things happen and much of the book, as told from the biologist’s point of view, is dreamlike, vague, and doesn’t lead to any sort of answers or conclusions.
Writer/director Alex Garland used that as the launch pad for his most recent movie, and yes, Watson has already reviewed it. But here’s my review if you’d prefer my own spoiler-free take.
As with the original novel, the main character is a biologist, here named Lena (Natalie Portman). Her husband Kane (Oscar Issac) literally appears from seeming nowhere after being missing for a year. His body soon seems to start to collapse and the two are taken in by the Southern Reach as led by one Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Where was Kane? Inside the Shimmer, a growing area of land around an old lighthouse that numerous expeditions have gone in to investigate. Kane is the first person to ever come back. He’s sick. Lena has training of her own and joins Ventress and three other women (an anthropologist, physicist, and paramedic) as they attempt to explore a place where science seems to have decided to take a vacation.
To say more about this movie would be to give away far too much. Garland moves back and forth through time between the expedition inside the Shimmer, Lena’s time with Kane before he left for the mission, and her own time when everything is over. Even with the occasional bits of action, this is a real thinking person’s movie, with an ending that may not exactly be 2001 in terms of crazy sci-fi concepts (it’s probably closer to Close Encounters of the Third Kind where the ending may not make complete sense but isn’t totally incomprehensible either) that don’t make a whole lot of sense, but it should leave an audience satisfied and intrigued at the same time. 9 and a half mutated life forms out of ten.