Annihilation is based on a book by Jeff VanderMeer
Annihilation is based on a book by Jeff VanderMeer

REVIEW: Brilliant movie you can stream on Netflix now

IT HASN'T been an easy road for Annihilation, Natalie Portman's ambitious new sci-fi movie.

Hotly anticipated for months, writer and director Alex Garland's follow-up to his incredibly well received Ex Machina, was dumped by its studio, Paramount, outside of North America and China, leaving it to be picked up by Netflix.

On the one hand, its Netflix distribution means a lot more people will see this excellent and provocative film. On the other, it's a real shame that Australians won't be able to experience Annihilation on a big screen.

And what an experience it is. Absorbing and hypnotic, Annihilation is the best kind of sci-fi film - the kind that challenges and subverts the genre, all the while introducing new ideas that you'll see in films to come.

Portman plays Lena, a former army ranger and biologist who specialises in the genetic programming of cells and how they propagate. Her husband disappeared on a mysterious mission a year earlier, that is until he appears in their house, with no memory of how he got there or where he's been.

When he falls violently ill, a government team transports him and Lena to a secret base. Here, Lena meets psychologist Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who tells Lena about The Shimmer, an electromagnetic field that is rapidly spreading from a lighthouse on the coast of Florida. For the past three years, anything and anyone that's ventured into The Shimmer hasn't returned, until Lena's husband.

Lena joins the next expedition into The Shimmer, an all-women team alongside Dr Ventress, paramedic Anya (Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie (Tessa Thompson) and surveyor Cass (Tuva Novotny). Everyone is broken or lost in some way, volunteering for what is effectively a suicide mission, but they are also all scientists, curious and capable.

Once inside, it's clear they're not in Kansas anymore. The team immediately lose days, unable to remember stepping inside the zone or how they came to be camped where they are. The compass and all communications equipment are rendered useless.

Inside The Shimmer, DNA is refracted and swapped, creating mutant species across everything - plants that form human shapes, alligators with shark teeth. Visually, Annihilation introduces aesthetics that you haven't seen on screen before - the imagery is spectacular to behold.

And unlike most sci-fi or genre films, it embraces colour with every sequence popping off the screen. The shimmering effect itself is like an oil-slick, superimposed on top of everything, like an ethereal filter. Annihilation really could've benefited from a cinematic release.

While it certainly borrows from the likes of Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Annihilation is a very different kind of movie.

It has those intense moments you'd expect of an expedition into the unknown but what it does really well is quiet moments - conversations about self-destruction and purpose. That oscillation and balance is reflected in the score, which is often underlined by a soft, acoustic, almost indie-country melody, giving you moments to breathe and take it all in.

How do you fight a threat that is molecular? (Paramount Pictures/Skydance via AP)
How do you fight a threat that is molecular? (Paramount Pictures/Skydance via AP)

Annihilation delights in surprises - not cheap thrills and jump scares but effective turns that have narrative or character intent - they're much more satisfying in the long run.

It's not a huge headscratcher than Annihilation was offloaded by Paramount to Netflix. It's exactly the kind of film that money-focused studios are afraid of - intelligent, thoughtful and led by women in a genre whose "traditional" fanbase skews male.

But Annihilation doesn't disappoint and it's confident enough to challenge its audience.

If it's human instinct to find order in everything, to impose rules, then inside The Shimmer it's entropy, and that feels a little representative of the social order of the current era. Perhaps The Shimmer really is a mirror self of our "real world", a prism that literally breaks down natural and social order. Or perhaps not. Those are the kind of heady questions Garland wants you to ask yourself.

Rating: 4/5

Annihilation is streaming now on Netflix.

Share your movies and TV obsessions with @wenleima on Twitter.

Group calls for sister city status with Gaza

Group calls for sister city status with Gaza

They say it will raise awareness of conditions in the region

Man allegedly wields axe during Byron Bay fight

Man allegedly wields axe during Byron Bay fight

An axe-wielding man has been arrested after an incident in Byron Bay

11 fantastic things to do this weekend

11 fantastic things to do this weekend

From ballet to horse racing

Local Partners