Visually stunning 'Annihilation' is as beautiful as it is disturbing
Visually stunning ‘Annihilation’ is as beautiful as it is disturbing

At its best, science fiction explores the otherworldly to teach us a little something about ourselves and what it means to be human. It can also be pretty good at scaring the crap out of us.

“Annihilation” is a movie that succeeds at doing both. It’s a visually stunning film that is as beautiful as it is disturbing; and while it may not stick the landing as it reaches its high-minded and vague crescendo, it certainly earns points for trying.

Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a biologist whose husband (Oscar Isaac) disappears on a military mission. What she discovers is his disappearance is tied to a strange atmospheric phenomenon.

A meteor has crashed into a nature preserve along the southern coastline and produced an eerie translucent dome that is dubbed The Shimmer. Anything or anyone that enters The Shimmer has never returned and to make matters worse, it is growing.

Lena volunteers to join a team of female scientists to explore The Shimmer and to hopefully discover what happened to her husband.

Once inside, the team made up of Radek (Tessa Thompson), Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), and Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez) and led by Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), find themselves in a disorienting and unsettling landscape.

The flora and fauna inside this swampland have been distorted by The Shimmer and the team begins to wonder if the biggest threat is hiding in the trees or amongst themselves.

“Annihilation” was written and directed by Alex Garland, who also wrote and directed the excellent and tense “Ex Machina.” Garland is an atmospheric filmmaker and, while “Annihilation” has plenty of scares that make you jump out of your seat, it’s his haunting and twisted visuals that really get under your skin.

The cast is outstanding and while sci-fi often gets tagged as a boys’ club, these women are fierce, intelligent, and daring in a world where the very laws of nature are up for grabs.

“Annihilation” is a movie that’s not afraid to challenge audiences and while it’s fair to argue all the pieces don’t exactly add up, this is a film you’ll likely be talking about long after the credits roll.

While there are nits to be picked (like why didn’t anyone think to simply tie a rope to someone’s waist and then yank them back out 10 minutes later?), you don’t find cinematic experiences that are much more visceral than this.

“Annihilation” may not leave you satisfied, but if you’re not afraid to get a little weird, it’s a movie you won’t forget.

“Annihilation” is rated R for violence, bloody images, language, and some sexuality.

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