As a rule I love science fiction films. There are, however, those rare occasions when I see a sci-fi film that leaves me wondering what went wrong, or what could have been. Such is the case with the new sci-fi/horror film “Annihilation.” The film stars Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) as Lena, a biologist and former soldier in the Army. The film begins on a downer note as Lena’s husband Kane (Oscar Isaac of “Star Wars”) has been missing for a year and is presumed dead. Lena has a pleasant surprise when Kane shows up one day with no notification, but is behaving strangely. When Kane starts bleeding, he is rushed to the hospital only to be stopped along the way by the military who take him out of the ambulance and sedate Lena. Later Lean wakes up in a hospital type room where she is told she is being held in an area named Area X, near where an object from outer-space struck a light house, which resulted in an anomaly called “the shimmer”. The “shimmer”, an electromagnetic field, reminded me of a very large and expansive rainbow. While the shimmer is attractive and mysterious in appearance, when you go beyond the boundaries of the shimmer, it’s like a trip through the looking glass.
Lena is recruited by a psychologist to venture into the shimmer, where no one, save for the comatose Kane, has returned. Several other women join Lena and the psychologist behind the shimmer, and the group quickly discover, via a mutated crocodile, they are not in Kansas anymore. After being attacked by said crocodile, the group discovers an abandoned military base, where Lena discovers Kane’s role in an expedition beyond the shimmer. The frightening role Kane played in the expedition is stomach churning, and soon after viewing a video of Kane and company, the women continue their journey to the light house where the object landed causing all the chaos. This is the part of the movie that really turns bizarre, as the group encounter human-shaped plants, and a vicious mutated wolf-like creature that takes one of the group out. It’s quite obvious the shimmer is acting as a genetic prism, resulting in mutations of all types. While all of the aforementioned sounds fascinating, I actually found myself nodding off a couple of times during the film, which is never a good sign.
Perhaps the combination of the mesmerizing soundtrack and the colorful special effects sent me on a brief visit to the Sandman. After my brief nod off, I managed to make it to the end of the film, which seems an hour too long. After all, how many scenes can one take of Portman’s character trying to give the details to government officials in a very slow and studied manner. I actually wanted to shout at the screen for Portman to get on with it, but I refrained. I will say the concept of an alien invasion typically involves huge space ships, so it was refreshing to see a film that relies on an invasion smaller in scope, that could still lead to the annihilation of the human race. In addition, Portman gives her all to her role, I just wish she had better material. The supporting cast, which includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, are convincing in their portrayals, but Isaac is much better suited to roles similar to that of his character in the new “Star Wars” films. Basically, “Annihilation” is an alien invasion film that attempts to be a bit too intellectual for its own good, resulting in more misses than hits. Perhaps I should have stayed asleep.
(Rated R) 2 Aliens (out of 4)