Annihilation (2018)

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Arriving on Netflix, is this bold and engagingly strange science fiction from Alex Garland. It’s arguably one of the finer films of this genre I’ve ever seen, questioning the audience with its intelligent themes of rationality and life.

After a figure from Lena’s (Natalie Portman) life comes back into the fold, she ends up at a government facility close to a glistening barrier known as The Shimmer which is expanding. Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) leads Lena and three others into this weird anomaly to try and stop it reaching civilisation and to hopefully uncover exactly what it is.

Alex Garland has been writing screenplays since 2002 and after his blistering debut directorial work on 2015’s ‘Ex Machina’, this was a movie I was eagerly awaiting. Garland has managed to capture the traumas and oddities of a strange new world from within Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name. As this film goes along, there’s a fantastic sense of slow-burning tension that doesn’t always need to pay off with big action because he directs in such a way that chills to the core and makes this environment feel visceral.

A sci-fi with plenty of intrigue and interesting ideas aren’t always common to come by, so gladly this is an exception, in the same vein as the smartly concocted ‘Arrival’. It’s a film that I think deserves to go down as a classic in its genre, as it grips like a row of razor sharp teeth sinking into you, as you get hooked onto the creepy air of unease and confusion that roams this altering landscape.

The Shimmer itself is a world of melding possibilities leading to some of the most beautiful shots I’ve seen this year, ones that I utterly wished I could have seen on the big screen, but again Paramount offloaded one of theirs to be released by streaming juggernaut Netflix. Rob Hardy’s cinematography is sublime and truly keeps you on the edge of your seat as we trek through somewhere, that is at once stunning and dripping with mystery.

There are some unnerving moments within ‘Annihilation’ which I won’t divulge any further as to avoid spoilers, but I will say, what lurks in The Shimmer certainly builds a scary level to the back and forth narrative with Lena. Also, the final act is absolutely incredible. My mouth was agape for the duration and my skin was layered with goosebumps, in a lighthouse set sequence I can only describe as hauntingly glorious and terrifying in a way that seems to burrow into your very being.

Natalie Portman is a strong presence from start to finish, her character background aptly aids her through this lush yet dangerous world of lost memories and trepidation. Portman easily acts that sense of forceful wanting and knowledgeable progression. She also carries an empathetic sadness and regret throughout, which makes her an interesting character to follow. The entire team are a formidable squad of females with enough drip fed information about their lives, to give us understanding of their choices and motivations. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Gina Rodriguez all neatly display the fraying of their minds as they descend further into The Shimmer. The latter gets a crackling turn to shine in a scene that sees her burst with an intensity, adding to the ferociousness of what happens.

‘Annihilation’ is a masterful movie and one I will definitely be watching again. It carries a quiet menace as the unknown is explored and identity is questioned more and more.

8.5/10

 

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Self/less (2015)

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Looks very good and in a few places it has a cool sense of substance but it begins ‘shedding’ brains and tense thrills as a more twisting Hollywood series of action sequences taint what could have been a better movie.

Billionaire Damian Hayes (Ben Kingsley) is seriously ill but hears of a new process that can give him chance to continue his work in a younger vessel. Damian meets Professor Albright (Matthew Goode) who lets him know about how moving his consciousness into a grown body works. Soon Hayes wakes up as a younger and fitter man given the new name Edward (Ryan Reynolds). All isn’t as it seems as Edward hallucinates and finds out more is behind this body swap.

Tarsem Singh directs the film with an undeniable flair, the way troubling past lives warp into existence is brilliant for creating that mysterious unease. It is a film that builds and builds in sense of urgency for Edward’s character. Unfortunately Singh’s quite intelligent vision for this movie is lost as he places in more car chases, gun fights and comes to a rather soppy ending. It starts off really well and Singh can direct greatly with inter-cuts of future moments playing out while present narration continues, it does help the film in style but sadly the script isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Alex and David Pastor are the screenplay duo and though it’s a neat concept it doesn’t work to completion when watching. I admit, it’s a stretched sci-fi idea in the first place but when I saw the trailer it enticed me and it seemed like a dark yet fun look at the identity crisis of this scientific breakthrough. Though the more you journey on this film you start questioning why they picked action over intelligence. The script is one that has so much potential in being edge, creepy and smart but apart from a couple of clever qualities this plot crashes into entertaining fodder with little under the surface.

The look of the film is near perfect, even with all the action screeching in your face, that’s still presented coolly as well. Brendan Galvin’s cinematography is sleek and designed like a glossy new model akin to the central feature of the film’s story. Each location is mastered with a confident touch and all in all the movie does visually everything you’d hope for. Musically too the film hits the right notes. It’s a score that builds on that bubbling tension of what is going on and feels like a usual yet great thriller sound.

I honestly can’t say I am disappointed with the film, even though it doesn’t hit the clever heights it could have reached, I still walked out entertained. I went in expecting a close cut thriller and exited seeing a glossy action piece, not fabulous but still slick and watchable. It’s just a real shame that the sci-fi thriller it easily could have been is left dangling in a lazy grip of action and summery cinematic ‘Lucy’ fatigue.

Ryan Reynolds is getting better though, I feel recently he’s making strides in his acting, ‘The Voices’ is still hands down his best but in this movie he balances charm and swag with that worried broken sense of who am I. Ben Kingsley basically cameos as the set up for the movie. Matthew Goode truly has that chilling factor to an art form, playing the professor Goode manages to give the film it’s more tense moments in that fine line where it could have continued being a focused brainy thriller. Michelle Dockery as Damian’s daughter Claire doesn’t have much to do and could have been used further if the story took a better turn.

Self/less is less about self and more about guns, cars and killing. It’s like a Bourne trip to find yourself instead of the intellectual questions that could have produced a finer sci-fi thriller. Saying all this, I still liked it for some reason and enjoyed the potential it had even if it’s squandered.

6/10