It’s one of those things where I thought I knew I what I was getting myself into. I hadn’t read the book, or even watched the trailer, but I’ve seen Ex Machina and some Tarkovsky, and the premise of an all-female cast in a slow, unnerving, batshit science fiction film that looks like it was shot through an hallucinogenic Instagram filter was apparently enough to make me forget what happened to me when I watched Under the Skin. That was the last movie to unspool me so bad, spending the next several hours with this free-floating unease that had me just very distressed over, I don’t know, the angle my door was at. The fact that doors even exist and I had to contend with them. It was a bit of a long night.
I’m ready and liable and to get extremely jumpy while watching any scary thing, but it’s the languorous pace to the eeriness in Under the Skin and Annihilation that I suspect does a real number on me. I was also getting echoes of Arrival, which makes a lot of immediate sense. Annihilation too has thoughtful female scientists as its protagonists, quietly stepping around the military to walk up to something horrifyingly, mesmerizingly, utterly alien. There is a Shimmer that exists, and they have to contend with it. It’s a long way to the lighthouse.
All that said, I do want to impress on you how trippy grisly and above all very bonkers this movie is. This movie is frightening and weird in ways that I struggle to figure out how to get across. There is a significant and not brief scene near the end where I was thinking “wow I hate this freaky thing that’s happening” and also “god bless Alex Garland for not being at all over dance sequences, if nothing else.” Incidentally I have a number of talking points about Alex Garland, a debatable dude, but one of them is sure not his repeated use of Oscar Isaac. Lucky that he had his number, as that role belonged in the hands of the man with the best dead-eyed stare in the business.
And while a few of Garland’s other casting choices just sound fishier the more he tries to explain what happened (a talking point!), I still have to commend him on those five women though! That’s a talented group who worked very well together. Despite my bewildered dread throughout, still was truly special to watch a group of actresses carry a hard sci-fi movie out there on their own, like they’ve been doing this for years. And Gina Rodriguez plays a lesbian paramedic and Tessa Thompson is a gentle physicist in last decade’s glasses and I really have no notes there at all.