Natalie Portman shimmers in thrilling new film “Annihilation”


courtesy of IMDb

Trevor Tyle, Campus Editor

Natalie Portman is no stranger to badass female characters. Whether she’s fighting in a galaxy far, far away or stealing the heart of everyone’s favorite god of thunder, Portman is a force to be reckoned with, a statement only reinforced by the performance she gives in her new film, “Annihilation.”

Directed by “Ex Machina” director Alex Garland, “Annihilation” is loosely based on the Jeff VanderMeer novel of the same name—though, thanks to Garland’s impeccable storytelling, the film takes on a life of its own.

Portman plays Lena, a cellular biologist and former soldier whose husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), has suddenly returned after disappearing on a mysterious mission she knows nothing about. Kane’s strange behavior prompts Lena’s failed attempt to take him to the hospital, which results in the couple’s abduction at the hands of government officials.

Lena is told that Kane is in critical condition after emerging the sole survivor of an expedition into the mysterious territory known as “the Shimmer,” a continuously growing area of unknown inhabitants that threatens to eventually absorb the entire world. Desperate for answers, Lena ventures into the Shimmer with a team of four other women to uncover what lives—and dies—in its depths.

Among the many triumphs of “Annihilation” are the five magnificent actresses at its forefront. Portman is as fierce and vulnerable as ever in her portrayal of Lena, though the performance is far from surprising for an actress of her versatility and commitment. Her talents are matched by the criminally underrated Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays the expedition’s no-nonsense leader, psychologist Dr. Ventress. Meanwhile, Tessa Thompson (“Thor: Ragnarok”), Tuva Novotny (“Eat Pray Love”) and Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”) are equally compelling in their supporting roles. The stellar performances showcased in the film are further driven by the women’s undeniable on-screen chemistry.

In all honesty, “Annihilation” probably won’t be widely enjoyed by many audience members. It exudes an intellectual depth that meets the approval of critics, but will be scoffed at by general audiences unwilling to give the film the thought it demands and deserves. This is exactly why Paramount opted to limit the film’s theatrical release to the U.S. and China. But, it will be released internationally via Netflix in March.

The film’s polarizing nature is comparable to last year’s “mother!” in terms of how it challenges audiences, particularly during the film’s climax, which parallels the chaotic ending of “mother!” in an eerier, more tranquil fashion. “Annihilation” also perfectly pays homage to the first two “Alien” films—as well as its more recent prequels, “Prometheus” and “Covenant”—through its Ripley-esque protagonist and a few distinctly familiar shots in the film. However, “Annihilation” still feels completely fresh and new.

The rising suspense and terror of “Annihilation” create a film rich in character development and engaging plotlines. Its deliberate pacing and slow buildup result in a disturbingly satisfying conclusion, and believe me, it’s one for the books.

The fact that a film as bold as “Annihilation” can evoke such an indescribable sense of fear among its audiences is a true testament to Garland’s storytelling abilities. Though the scares are few and far between, this film will leave audiences in a cold sweat for its entire two-hour runtime.

With “Annihilation,” Garland has conceived what is perhaps one of the most refreshing and innovative science fiction films of our time.

Rating: 5/5 stars