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Taut, tense ‘Annihilation’

By: - Writing Editor
/ 12:07 AM April 16, 2018

Portman plays a scientist and ex-soldier.

Combining familiar scare tactics and eerie science-fiction concepts, the film “Annihilation” is a tense and smart thriller about an all-female group that investigates an area suspected to be controlled by alien intelligence.

Currently streaming on Netflix, Alex Garland’s film stars Natalie Portman as a biology professor and former soldier, Lena, whose missing soldier husband, Kane, (Oscar Isaac) reappears after a year. But their reunion is short-lived, as it is soon revealed that the latter is severely ill.

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Lena eventually learns about her husband’s last mission, which is shrouded in mystery. She and four other experts from various fields (Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Jennifer Jason Leigh) go on an expedition, hoping to finally unravel the puzzles of “The Shimmer,” an area that is somehow being terraformed into a bizarre, dreamlike landscape.

Hair-raising scenes

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Despite depicting some familiar ideas, “Annihilation” succeeds on multiple fronts. It’s a taut sci-fi story with interesting set and creature designs. While it goes the predictable slasher-flick route—not a spoiler, since it’s declared early on that Lena’s mission goes terribly awry, and what we see are flashbacks—there are nicely concocted, hair-raising scenes.

Then, of course, there’s the “girl power” mindset of the whole endeavor.

From left: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Natalie Portman, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez

While not exactly toughened heroines à la Sarah Connor or Ellen Ripley, the female characters of “Annihilation” do rise to the occasion, before most of them shuffle off the mortal coil in creative ways.

Still, it’s a nice cast with a good number of standouts: Rodriguez gets to play a volatile lesbian paramedic who’s quite unlike her role in “Jane the Virgin.” Portman manages to add depth to an already layered character. Isaac, meanwhile, also breathes life into a complexly vulnerable figure.

As for the tale itself, it’s not an unheard-of plot; it’s been done before in various media.
That doesn’t make “Annihilation” any less satisfying—the restless invasion story is buoyed up by stuff that befuddling nightmares are made of.

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