Annihilation is a challenging new thriller from Alex Garland, who made his directorial debut with the critically acclaimed 2015 sci-fi movie Ex Machina. Garland’s second sci-fi feature is about a group of female scientists led by a machine gun-toting Natalie Portman entering a deserted swampland called Area X, which is surrounded by a strange coalescing energy field called the Shimmer. The film definitely earns its R rating, and is not for the faint of heart. For those unfamiliar with The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (the film is only based on the first novel and does take some liberties with the source material), here’s what to expect when you enter the intense and surreal environment of the Shimmer.
Does Annihilation Have Jump Scares?
Annihilation isn’t a straight horror movie like IT, nor does it rely on sudden shocks to scare the audience. Rather, the film is a psychological puzzle that builds upon its creepy elements as the team of scientists treads deeper and deeper into Area X. They encounter bizarre phenomena in the form of plants and animals that have been mutated in ways that can’t be explained by science.
However, there are a couple of moments that do qualify as jump scares, both involving the characters suddenly attacked by mutant animals in Area X. The first is when the group finds an abandoned shack in a swamp and one of them is suddenly pulled through the doorway. The other occurs during the night when they notice something tore a hole through a perimeter fence and one of the women is ambushed by a creature that jumps at her and drags her away. Perhaps the scariest moment in Annihilation is the scene reminiscent of Jurassic Park, when the mutated animal – which can scream with a human voice – returns to attack them inside an abandoned house. This scene is incredibly suspenseful and suddenly becomes very gory.
Annihilation Is Very Violent
Natalie Portman’s character Lena is a biologist who served 7 years in the Army. She is hefting a machine gun through most of the movie, so of course, she uses it when necessary against the creatures that attack her group. However, the deeper the women go into the Shimmer, the more damage it does to them both physically and psychologically. In a fit of madness, one character slams the butt of her rifle into another’s head to knock her out. Lena is also abducted at one point, held down and has a syringe plunged into her neck to render her unconscious.
As the group discovers the truth about what happened to the soldiers who entered Area X before them, they find footage left behind of soldiers using their tactical knives to slice another soldier’s midsection open. There are also disturbingly graphic moments of people committing self-immolation by using flash grenades, with their bodies lit aflame.
Annihilation Has Horror and Sci-Fi Imagery
There are several foreboding images in Annihilation that qualify as horror movie elements, many involving human skeletons and remains grotesquely displayed all around Area X. The bodies of some of the characters mutate in terrifying and bloody ways. However, some of the imagery of the flora and fauna altered by the Shimmer can be rather beautiful – if creepy and surreal.
It’s in the film’s mind-blowing ending that the visuals and the score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury combine to become truly bizarre, as Lena comes face-to-face with the shape-shifting entity behind the Shimmer. By the end, Annihilation not only succeeds in getting under your skin but the creepiness stays with you even as you exit the theater.
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