‘It’s not destroying… It’s making something new…’
On the whole Netflix has been a great thing for popular culture in terms of the consumer. We are currently in a golden age of TV and with shows like Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black and Mindhunter, Netflix is the driving force behind this visual revolution.
Away from the small screen though Netflix has kind of struggled, despite bagging big stars and spending a whole load of cash. The Will Smith vehicle Bright was an expensive failure and acclaimed director Duncan Jones’ contribution Mute currently boasts a Rotten Tomatoes score of 13% despite starring my all time best friend Paul Rudd.
Annihilation might not be the movie that breaks in to cinema for Netflix but it does at least show off their secret weapon. Without the need to entice people out of the warm security of their houses to an actual building they have the freedom to do pretty much whatever the fuck they want. Annihilation director Alex Garland exploits that freedom to create something beautiful and utterly unique…
Lena (Natalie Portman) follows her husband (Oscar Isaacs) into a mysterious and mind bending area dubbed the shimmer. What she finds there has the potential to change everything.
That synopsis may sound a little vague but I challenge you to watch this movie and then attempt to sum up the plot in 50 or so words. This is a big, ambitious movie with big, ambitious ideas that some people will undoubtedly label pretentious. As with Darron Afonofsky and Mother however, the pretensions are worth indulging for the visual and visceral experience that they inspire. Like that film, things start off pretty normal. Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and some other forgettable actors make their way into the jungle in a kind of female led Predator remake. What starts out as a straightforward monster movie soon becomes a trippy and philosophical meditation on consciousness, the universe and Natalie Portman’s furrowed brow.
One of the great successes of Annihilation is that while it doesn’t seem to know which genre to settle in, it pulls off every outfit that it tries on. The parts that feel like a horror film are genuinely creepy, the sci-fi elements feel like hard sci-fi, we’re talking Ridley Scott sci-fi here, and the more meditative moments are classy and humanised, mainly because of how good Jason Leigh and Natalie Portman are. The only disappointment in terms of acting is that Oscar Isaacs doesn’t have more to do. It’s like The Force Awakens all over again.
Annihilation aims for the same head-space as Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey and the final act really pulls it off. The journey isn’t always perfect but the destination is spellbinding. Is this the moment when Netflix expanded its world domination to cinema? Let’s hope so.