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Annihilation review - dystopian sci-fi as you've never seen it before

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Directed by Alex Garland, Annihilation (2018) tells the story of Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist that is trying to move on after her husband dies while serving in the military. When he inexplicably comes back with a mysterious illness, she must venture into The Shimmer, a quarantined zone where the laws of nature do not apply and people keep disappearing, to try and find out what really happened to her husband.

This film is quite surprising in many senses. First and foremost, a sci-fi film starring all women has been a long time coming. At no point in this film is a woman relegated to being a sexy love interest, sidekick, or fridged motivation for a man ... which shuoldn't be revolutionary in the genre, but sadly is. This time, the cast is almost all female, and these women volunteer to go forth into danger, armed to the teeth, to try and save the world when the military has failed. Each of these women is brilliant in their own unique ways.

Natalie Portman, outstanding as usual, plays Lena, a biologist who ventures into The Shimmer accompanied by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), and geologist Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny). They are all fully developed characters, each one with her own backstory, and they are all highly skilled and very brave.

The story, based on The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, is very original and extremely gripping. The whole movie is told through flashbacks, as Lena tells the story of what happened to her. You'll hardly be able to blink, since there are so many strange things going on that you’ll desperately want to understand, and that are explained little by little until the very end. It's so rare to find a movie of this kind, that tells a story as complex as this one, and that manages to do so without the audience feeling like there’s something missing. Everything in the story is perfectly explained, and when the movie is over, you'll be nothing short of satisfied.

However, it has an open ending that allows your imagination to run wild. Despite being an adaptation of just the first part of the trilogy, the film works perfectly solo, with the open ending giving it one more dose of excitement. 

The film is very colourful, and the special effects are astonishing. The Shimmer is a place where mutated nature has gone wild, and the design and production of both the landscape and the creatures is extremely well-made. The performances of the actresses are just great, especially when taking into account that most of the time they are probably acting against either a green screen or nothing at all. 

The meaning of the film is rather deep and thought-provoking. The whole thing is a metaphor for cancer, which is in turn a metaphor for self-destruction. Each one of the characters in The Shimmer faces their own self-destructive tendencies, whether through alcohol, self-harm, or destroying a perfectly happy marriage. It all comes down to an allegory of human nature itself. 

Annihilation is a first-rate film, another daring masterpiece by director Alex Garland, who wrote and directed Ex Machina (2014), adapted Never Let Me Go (2010), and wrote 28 Days Later (2002). He has proven several times that he is a dystopian sci-fi genius, and this film simply reconfirms it. Its entertaining plot, its challenging themes, and its entrhalling narrative will leave you thinking about the film long after you've finished watching. It is definitely a must-watch. 

Annihilation is now streaming on Netflix everywhere. 

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