Annihilation: A Motion Picture I Would Like to Discuss

#21

Again, I think the film was really really good and stands on its own! I just wrote that up because it was on my mind, and I had read the book mere weeks before so the comparison was impossible not to make. I think knowing it’s source material informed my opinions on missed opportunities. I couldn’t help but feel like they boiled out essential elements to the mood of the novel that could have stayed in the film, and in fact, strengthened the film to be a genuine masterpiece. I also do feel that critique on adaptation is worthwhile and interesting, though not really a meaningful assessment of quality!

also dont take the rest of this comment as an argument with or against you it just inspired thoughts in me and i write too much ufhksd!

also @mundanesoul the words in the tower/tunnel, it occurs to me, and the final reveal of the crawler are things that are the most powerful because they exist inside a book. Using inexplicable language within a language-oriented medium instills a particular mood. In the film, an audiovisual medium, it uses inexplicable audiovisuals like the scream of a woman coming out of a decomposing bears mouth, or a bizarre human-shaped… thing mirroring he movements of our protagonist to instill the same feeling. I still think they could have used the "Where lies the strangling fruit… (and am genuinely annoyed that they didn’t use it), but I don’t think the lighthouse keeper and the Crawler would have worked. That moment in the book works so well because the language feels inadequate to describe whatever she’s seeing. In a way, there’s no way that could have been done in a film; same goes for the amount of introspection that goes on in the novel. I think the visual imagery they replaced the written imagery with adequately conveyed much of the unease through film.

But, so… I’ll also be the first to say I don’t like judging things on what they aren’t.

So let me talk about the film for what it is: an excellent science fiction film with some of the most memorable and nightmarish imagery I’ve seen in years. I think the direction is kind of weak at times, specifically with the acting. I’ll also complain that I felt much of the first act was superfluous; this might be a personal aesthetic preference, but I would have liked it to take place within Area X primarily. (Again, probably preference, I like things that are more confined.) Certain details also felt like the weighed down the narrative (the biologist’s affair, for example).

But very few films actually get the dream-like horror Annihilation manages to hit. (Fun fact, the book itself was inspired by Vandermeer’s dream. :slight_smile:) It does genuinely feel like a nightmare at times. Unfortunately, I can’t even say much about it, because the visions this film shows are so truly inexplicable and horrifying that I can’t even analyze them. The bear scene, as has been said so much, was genuinely one of the must unbelievable sequences I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing in a theatre. The corpse in the pool is another image that I can’t even explain why it’s so brilliant. The ending sequence inside the lighthouse was so bizarre and dreamlike and unnerving. The movement of the medic’s fingerprints and the flowers growing out of the physicist’s arm were more subtle images that lend to the dream-like nature of this film. I love that the film ramps up the terror incrementally. The encounters with “predators” go from somewhat strange, with the crocodile with shark’s teeth to nightmarish,with the bear scene, to outright incomprehensible, with the lighthouse sequence. Things happening that make only make their own hellish sense within the distorted reality within Area X. It’s so fucking good; I can’t praise the imagery enough. At the very least, the film deserves to be remembered for this.

I don’t think, though, it has anything particularly “strong” to say. I actually thought the explanation of all things being refracted was really cool, but it didn’t really factor into message or meaning, which is fine but feels less cohesive. I think, especially with a film that has a distinctly ecological bent, it’s weird to portray nature as adversarial. I know that they make a very clear point about nature (in this case, an alien lifeform) being totally ambivalent and without malice, just doing what it does by itself, but comes across kind of weakly when there’s a screaming skull-bear tearing Gina Rodriguez’s face off and an albino crocodile trying to kill Tessa Thompson. It feels like this message only really comes up in the last 30 minutes of the film. I don’t think every film or book or piece of art needs to drive home a really specific message or be anything more than entertainment, and I know I’m falling back into judging things based on what they aren’t, but I can’t help but feel like this film could have elevated itself from one of the best sci-fi horror films in years to one of the best sci-fi horror films ever. The result, I guess, is that Annihilation is a sublime film experience, but lacks the same narrative flair.

I also recognize, though, that this is partially because the novel instilled within me a very particular response and message, and maybe my interpretation is distorted as such. So maybe I’m too far gone into this.

My take is as follows, as a said earlier: Annihilation is an all-in-all excellent, memorable movie, but a questionable adaptation. If we’re not talking about the film as an adaptation, my take is as follows: Annihilation is all-in-all an excellent, memorable movie, but a film that fails to have a meaningful and cohesive point underlying it all.

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#22

I just watched this recently and thought it was uh, kind of a complete mess? I wanted to like it so bad since it seemed very much my shit, but it was doing nothing for me.

The acting wasn’t great and honestly everyone just seemed bored by it, Natalie Portman in particular was just phoning it in (Gina Rodriguez was my favorite in it but it’s not hard going from a masterpiece like Jane the Virgin to this), the dialogue wasn’t well-written (that part early on where they need you to know Portman’s husband is dead has her say to someone “I can’t go out, I need to paint our - I mean, my bedroom tonight”, come on), that terribly out of place Crosby stills and Nash song they insist on playing, and an ending that manages to raise some interesting questions but isn’t earned because I don’t care at all about these people and their petty infidelity sideplots and all that.

The whole thing just feels weirdly lifeless and sterile and dull. It looks ok sometimes, and that bear scene is cool, but man I was bummed. I’d like to read the book based on what’s been said in this thread though, the movie seemed to be grasping at a lot of ideas that would be more interesting if they didn’t have to try to insert them in a blockbuster.

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#23

As said, the book is miles apart from the film.

Though… it’s worth saying: if you don’t like sterility, you might not like the book, either. The narrator is deliberately written to be stoic and impersonal. Luckily, you can read it in an afternoon, or if you’re like me, one week. :wink:

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#24

Thanks for the heads up, I’ll give it a try! People are so passionate about both that I don’t want to dismiss the story just because I strongly dislike the film. The whole thing stung a bit more because it’s a rare misstep for me from Alex Garland who I think has an impressive track record as a writer/director/producer. Glad people are into it though, I’d like to live in a world where filmmakers like Garland and Villeneuve are given the chance to make lavishly produced deep sci-fi, even if it occasionally misses the mark

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#25

I don’t think I really have much of interest to say about the film that hasn’t been said, other than that I really wish Paramount had had the courage to let me see it in a cinema here in the UK. Perhaps they made the right financial decision, but for me it was very disappointing to have to watch it on Netflix.

I did really enjoy it, though.

One thing that did occur to me is that the notion of timeslips reflects quite nicely how time is edited in film. Of course, all narrative media omit and move around in time, but there’s something particular to how it’s experienced in film that seems more ripe for interesting trickery. This film seems to experiment with it a little bit - I became unsure of whether the flashbacks were just the film telling the viewer something, the character remembering, or something stranger and less definable, for example - but I wonder whether it could have done more. It’s established early on that the characters don’t necessarily have any recollection of the time between edits, but I think maybe we’re so trained to assume that they do, the disjointed jumps forward are perhaps a little less alarming than they might have been. But maybe I’m asking the film to be too explicit; maybe it would have been less effective if it had drawn more attention to the form. But I can’t shake the memory of David seeing forwards but not backwards through time at the end of 2001, and trying to comprehend what that meant. And how disorienting David Lynch films are. But of course that isn’t what this is, and nor should it be. Still…

I don’t know.

Anyway, I liked Annihilation a lot and am now very curious about the books, but I never bloody read any more. One day, I guess.

#26

I watched this movie last night and my lukewarm reaction to it compared to the love it received reminded me of when Mad Max: Fury Road came out, which made me curious about people’s relationship with CGI.

This movie looks like one giant green-screen to me, nearly every scene (even before they get to The Shimmer) is full of fake magic hour sunbeams or other little touch-ups. I had the same problem with Fury Road where the much touted practical effects meant little to me because the whole look was so relentlessly touched-up in post-production. In the case of Fury Road it was extreme color grading, CG compositing and speed-ramping making everything look too phony to feel dangerous. In Annihilation it’s that the uncanny nature of The Shimmer is almost entirely achieved via CGI monsters, CGI plants, CG haze, CG lightbeams, etc. That none of it felt “real” is less of a problem than the fact that none of it felt like an actual place the characters were inhabiting. The aesthetic kept making think of:

I do wonder if other people A) don’t notice all these CG enhancements or B) just don’t mind them. I wonder if a world of non-stop superhero/Star Wars/Harry Potter/young adult dystopian sci-fi movies has produced a post-photographic society where believing that what is happening onscreen actually happened in front of a camera is no longer necessary. I can get down for pure reality-breaking spectacle if it’s gorgeous enough (Speed Racer is dope) but if a movie wants me to take it’s reality seriously I need to be able to buy it.

Annihilation is also hurt because it keeps calling out other, better pre-CGI sci-fi movies. Tarkovsky’s Stalker is obviously the big one, but 2001 also kept coming to mind and the bear scene is just a reworking of the blood test scene in The Thing, except with way worse special effects. Those movies capture an unsettling reality purely through tone and pace in a way Annihilation feels too impatient for, even at 2 hours.

I dunno, I’m probably just an old curmudgeon with bad conservative aesthetic values. But does anyone know what I’m talking about?

#27

The Thing is one of my favorite movies ever, and I watch it all the time, but I think what both it and the bear scene in Annhilation are going for couldn’t possibly be more different, and are stylistically different enough they can’t really be compared beyond “folks are tied to a chair like in The Thing.” Plus I mean Kurt Russel noticeably “reacts” to the thing popping out of the petri dish before it actually pops out. Palmer magically turns into a stuntman in jeans and a green t-shirt for a few seconds while eating Windows’ face, flame throwers magically stop working so that the scene can happen. Like I love that scene but it has some moments. :smiley: Understandably no one cares because it’s a great movie.

At the same time, I think the only real difference today is that no matter how many movies we’ve seen over the decades, we only really remember the ones that are extremely good and a few that look extremely bad. The Thing doesn’t have “normal” 80s movie practical effects, it has some of the best effects moments ever put on screen (and some of the cheesiest depending on your tolerance for rushed for some bits they had to rush :stuck_out_tongue: ). For every The Thing or Alien or Return of the Living Dead there’s ten thousand Starcrashes or Star Crystals or Burial Grounds. No special effects on earth are going to be on par with how blown away we were when we first saw the former.

Annihilation’s CG is genuinely really good to me (especially for a $40 million movie that could also fit in the cast it has). If anything its practical effects are where it does fall a little flat, with the on-set plant life especially being a little cheap looking and muted even after stuff starts getting really weird. But Annihilation’s look is also interesting to me because like Speed Racer it’s one of the few movies where the effects just straight don’t as good as they did on the big screen. Like with Speed Racer if I was ever going to watch it again I’d want to get it on blu-ray.

No one on earth ever “really believes what’s happening on the camera” though, Like no one a few months after The Thing came out was blown away that they didn’t hire an actual shape shifting alien life form to play the part of The Thing or thought that Pazuzu wasn’t on Warner Bros. payroll for The Exorcist. I think it’s a big stretch to act like people are more or less tolerant of being sold on a scene based on the effects than they were in the past.

Like Avengers: Infinity War has plenty of horrible effects shots in it, no one cares because the effects are good enough and people see Marvel movies to see characters they have nostalgia for (yes even just in the movies, Iron Man is now ten years old) played by specific actors who own the roles using their powers and tossing out one liners. No one thinks any of those movies have incredible effects all the way through, nor is that necessarily what people ever really cared about even back in the day.

So I understand the feeling you’re describing but I don’t think anything’s really changed with audiences or standards for effects.

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#28

I feel like my post is being taken in the least charitable way possible (did I say all 80’s special effects look good?) and responding to each and every point you made would take a long time and derail this thread so never mind.

#29

This is where you lost me.

The answer to your post is, for me, a “no”. I don’t agree, and I don’t understand where you’re coming from. I think you’re being pickier than most everyone else, which is your prerogative, but speaks specifically to your preferences. I do think the special effects in Annihilation were not altogether outstanding, but if they communicate what they need to (and they did, for me), I am willing to look past any evident artifice so long as the rest of the film is worth it. I’d wager that’s how most people feel.