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Film Review: Annihilation

It’s Not Destroying. It’s Making Something New…”

Wowing audiences and critics alike in the past with screenplays for works of brilliance including 28 Days Later, Dredd, albeit unaccredited, and of course his masterful directorial debut in the form of 2015’s Ex Machina, the breath of fresh air which is Britain’s own, Alex Garland, returns this week with Annihilation, yet another hotly anticipated release which uses Netflix as its’ chosen distributor in the UK after somehow failing to secure a deal for a nationwide cinematic release. Whilst Ex Machina was essentially a low-key, claustrophobic comment on the notion of artificial intelligence which always settled for brains over brass idiocy, going against the ilk and financial safety net of many contemporary sci-fi blockbusters, Garland’s latest expands the film-making horizons of which genuinely interesting science fiction can be explored, a movie which although at times seems to not entirely piece together as smoothly as one would ultimately like, powerfully blends thought provoking notions of unidentified alien contact with nightmarish surrealist terror which both takes cues and evolves on from classic genre pieces of which the movie undeniably takes reference from.

Based upon Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel of the same name, the first entry within the well received “Southern Reach Trilogy”, Garland’s movie focuses on Natalie Portman’s, Lena, a former soldier turned biologist who after the mysterious year long absence of Oscar Isaac’s (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) husband figure and current serving member of the U.S Army, Kane, embarks on a high risk expedition into the unknown phenomenon known as only as the “Shimmer” in order to find both an explanation behind its’ origins and answers regarding Kane’s sudden disappearance. Teaming up with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s (The Hateful Eight) Dr. Ventress, a straight-faced terminally ill psychologist who takes lead of the group, and Tessa Thompson’s (Thor: Ragnarok) somewhat timid and “damaged” physicist, Josie, among others, Annihilation explores a mode of discovery as we venture into the ambiguous “Shimmer” with Portman’s Lena taking point as the audiences access into the surrealist undertakings our heroine witnesses through her journey into the unknown. With an opening thirty minutes which leans heavy on background details regarding Kane and Lena’s unfaithful relationship and the apocalyptic nature of the “Shimmer” itself, the remaining runtime hands forth a narrative which keeps the audience on edge, forever guessing the threat which ultimately will be discovered as the cards reveal themselves come a Under the Skin inspired final act.

Aided by an uncertain, uncomfortable sensibility, a tonal cornerstone which is completely rife from beginning to end, Annihilation is at times genuinely unnerving in nature, with minimal use of jump-scare tactics and a tendency for a complete lack of resolution regarding particular plot threads resulting in a Blair Witch style behaviour pattern in which the audience builds up tension ready to be alleviated but is instead left stranding and unsure of what to expect next. With the movie at times resorting to handheld footage in order to explore the outcome of previous expeditions within the “Shimmer”, the Blair Witch similarities are abundantly clear, whilst it comes not much of a stretch to see the likes of the monster effects of The Thing, the surreal science fiction beauty of Arrival and the nihilistic low-key apocalyptic themes of the little seen mind bending Coherence within the DNA of the piece too, and whilst at times dialogue does seem a tad on the nose and the special effects not exactly pitch perfect, a surprising weakness considering the Oscar winning work of Ex Machina, Garland’s latest is a wonderful work of science fiction cinema, one which will please genre fans from the outset and one which too leaves a lasting impression like all the best experimental works of art do so well.

Overall Score: 8/10

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Film Review: Deepwater Horizon

“Mayday, Mayday. This Is Deepwater Horizon…”

Proclaimed as the worst oil disaster in U.S history, Deepwater Horizon brings to the big screen the events which unfolded on the titular oil rig back in 2010, starring Mark Wahlberg as Chief Electronics Technician Mike Williams as well as a strong supporting cast consisting of Kurt Russel, Kate Hudson and John Malkovich. Directed by Peter Berg, whose back catalogue includes The Kingdom, Hancock and Lone Survivor, also starring Mark Wahlberg, Deepwater Horizon is a surprisingly effective disaster drama, one that focuses on the buildup of characterisation and plot and then throws you into submission with a slender mix of both practical and digital effects, resulting in an experience both impressive and terrifying in its’ attempt to showcase the horrific events that took place aboard the titular oil rig only six years ago.

Questionable accents aside, particularly from John Malkovich, as well as a wondering Texas accent from Wahlberg, and a tendency to resort to technical jargon and mumbling, of which was sometimes hard to unravel, Deepwater Horizon follows in the conventional genre-converting blueprint of attempting to tell the tale of a disaster from the POV of many, whilst primarily focusing on one in order to form an emotional and physical connection to occurrences on screen and whilst Wahlberg is effective in the lead role, the beginning of the film recalls a court case featuring the real life Mike Williams after the events of the Deepwater Horizon and thus prevents the audiences’ ambiguity regarding the fate of its leading character. A strange move indeed, but nonetheless, when put up against recent movies of similar ilk such as San Andreas and Everest, Deepwater Horizon is indeed the most effective, unexpectedly so and whilst it isn’t exactly groundbreaking in terms of cinematic originality, Deepwater Horizon is indeed worth the ticket price for its’ big screen quality if nothing else.

Overall Score: 8/10