by Brooke Warra
While many horror fans have known for some time the rich, beautiful, and often horrifying world of body horror in literature, we have very rarely witnessed it in mainstream cinema. John Carpenter gave us The Thing, arguably one of the best horror films of all time. And let’s not forget Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis’ performances in David Cronenberg’s The Fly. But most of our favourite body horror films have been small productions with cult followings (i.e. Teeth, Tusk, and the delightfully disgusting Contacted).
Now, Alex Garland has given us Annihilation, based off the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer.
Natalie Portman plays our heroine in an almost entirely female cast, joining a stoic Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny. The women have been gathered to investigate “the shimmer,” a strange translucent barrier that has appeared after a meteor landing, and won’t stop growing, threatening to engulf everything in its path. Teams have been sent in before, no one has come out alive except for one man (our hero’s husband), played by Oscar Isaac, who upon his return doesn’t seem to remember anything from his time spent in the shimmer. When his organs begin to fail, his wife volunteers for the next mission with the hopes of finding out what’s done this to him and save his life. From there, the women—and audience—are taken into the shimmer.
The performances from the cast are solid. Leigh shines while Portman commands you to follow her wherever she goes. The winding plot barely gives you time to catch your breath or wonder what you’ve just seen, before it turns the next corner. The finale is breathtaking, if not satisfying; there’s no neat, little bow on this package.
Annihilation isn’t a film meant to be watched, but rather it’s meant to be experienced, absorbed. The horrors (and yes, they are many) that follow are haunting. Disturbing. Deeply uncomfortable. Beautiful. Rather than jump scares or shock imagery (a tool overused by many mainstream horror movies), the film relies heavily on our perceptions of the world around us, what we know to be true, and twists them so that the unnaturalness of what we are witnessing is itself the horror, creeping and unsettling. The ever present feeling that something isn’t right. It’s a world filled with the subtle wrongness of dream logic. There are many sights to behold inside the shimmer, but there are also universal inevitabilities to be faced: mortality, our own compulsion to self-destruct, grief, what makes us human, why we’re here? Annihilation doesn’t answer these questions, but rather forces us to take an uncomfortable look at them.