I fell in hard love with the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. I loved the first book (Annihilation), and didn’t really make plans to read the others, because I thought for sure one would be enough. As it turns out, I was entirely wrong (so wrong, so wrong, oh golly), and after watching the film Annihilation, I find myself wanting more of this weird world, Area X. Like, a coloring book would be amazing.
This isn’t going to be a real movie review — whatever “real” means, but I wanted to jabber some about the journey this film takes and the journey it took me on. I was surprised to find myself having to remember to breathe over the course of the film. Even when something terrifying isn’t happening, your bones still vibrate in your skin like it’s about to happen, and you’re holding your breath so the terrors don’t find you. Though of course they do. Find you. (The score is monstrous in its own right, looming.)
Terrors? Is it horror? I mean, in a way. A woman’s personal horror. A woman’s story. The story of the women who accompany her into The Shimmer (heh, hey, is it full of badgers /in joke). This movie is unique in that we journey with five women into the weirdness. It’s women’s hands and eyes doing the work. It’s women working together to discover what the fuck is happening in Area X. It’s women. It’s rare.
The book and movie differ, of course. I guess some folks are upset or annoyed by this. I used to be upset when movies differed from books I loved, before I was a writer. When I became a writer, I realized you could do different things with a page and with a screen. They don’t always match up. In my wanderings to read more about this film, someone said it was like having a dream of the book, and that’s so right on.
It’s intense. It doesn’t let up, not even at the end. It doesn’t allow you to breathe, or scream — hey, how about that scream? You know the one. I’m still thinking about it days later.
I guess Paramount totally punted on this film, not advertising it and booting foreign release to Netflix. It’s a shame. Wait, no, it’s stupid. Before the film in the theater I went to, there was a piece about “cerebral scifi,” which this film totally is — but it mentioned films like Under the Skin, and Arrival, and Ex Machina. Is this film too smart for a wide release? Is this film too female for a wide release? I don’t know what Paramount is thinking, but I’m reminded of The Shape of Water and how it also got a pretty quiet launch.
The more I think about this film, the more I like it. There’s a lot going on. Are there book-things that I missed? Sure. But guess what? Those things remain in the book. The awesome thing about this world is, we can have both versions. We can have the book and we can have the movie, which is a dream of the book.
Do I need to say how great Natalie Portman is? Probably not, so let us praise Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny. Jennifer Jason Leigh, also great, but unnerving! Ahhhh! (And okay, yes, Oscar Isaac. Let us praise the way the light of Annihilation moves across that face of his. Gasp, Elise, reducing the male lead to his looks? Yeah.)
This film stole my breath; there’s one scene in particular that left me staring and kind of holding myself, and I don’t know if it’s because of the horrors, or if it’s because of the women — women going where men have only gone, women exploring, women knowing. That’s a hell of a thing.