Monday, February 26, 2018

The Cerebral Sci-Fi of 'Annihilation'

I've always been inspired by speculative fiction that makes you think. Case in point: Yesterday's screening of Annihilation. It was so refreshing to see a thought-provoking science fiction film that didn't mimic or remake anything that came before it. It's a cerebral film that treats its audience with respect and the presupposition that moviegoers are intelligent and focused enough to wade into a metaphorically-rich exploration of inward annihilation.
Challenging, tense, visually arresting, Annihilation is a thinking man's science fiction film ripe with heady ideas and layered with provocative thematic elements. Genetic malleability as villain is a terrifying body-horror concept that director Alex (Ex Machina) Garland nails brilliantly. Like the classic slasher convention the-call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house, the idea of the terror within is executed with precision, aided in large part by the film's acting ensemble. While Natalie Portman gives an astutely understated lead performance, it's Jennifer Jason Leigh's sublime turn as the expedition's psychologist leader and Gina (Jane the Virgin) Rodriquez's career-turning performance as a lesbian EMT that are the real standouts.
It's equally inspiring that instead of another remake or Alien knockoff, Annihilation was adapted from the first of three novels in the excellent Southern Reach trilogy (collected in the omnibus Area X) by Jeff VanderMeer. I sincerely hope that the female-led sci-fi actioner's fourth-place bow at the box office this weekend doesn't dissuade Hollywood from making more original genre fare, mining the rich supply of original speculative fiction out there hiding in plain sight in myriad novels and short stories instead of endlessly recycling uninspiring cinematic clichés. 

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