Annihilation

I watched the movie version of Annihilation last night. I read the book a few years back and thought it was great. The book – by Jeff Vandermeer – was eerie, strange and haunting, and the movie had pretty much exactly the same qualities.

It’s an intriguing world he created in the book, and persuasively rendered on screen. Watching I was reminded somewhat of Stalker, the movie by Andrei Tarkovsky (based on the book Roadside Picnic, which oddly enough I finished reading the other day).

Stalker is a strange tale of a wasteland left after an alien incursion. It’s a forbidden zone full of peril, but people – Stalkers – still enter it illegally to collect the detritus left by the aliens to sell on the black market.

Likewise in Annihilation, something has infected a zone of land by the cost and enveloped it in a shimmering haze. None of the expeditions into the zone have made it back, but for one damaged survivor. No-one knows what happened to cause this, or what has happened on the far side of the barrier, but as in Stalker, it’s a zone of weird happenings and lurking death. And in both movies, it leads to a moment of profound discovery, though other-worldly.

This is a departure from the book for the movie of Annihilation. In the book mystery was piled upon mystery, clues left without resolution. The book was the first of three, and though I wouldn’t rule it out, the movie of it doesn’t demand a follow-up – there is enough revealed to explain the riddle that in the book leads on to the next chapter.

I enjoyed the movie. I thought the world they created was great, and unusual in my experience married up pretty well to my own imagining of it. There’s a baroque exuberance in the flourishing, impossible vegetation and the strange creatures mutated into something other. It’s very otherworldly and different as if it might be a million miles from what we know as civilisation. And yet remaining are the remnants of crumbling settlement, lop-sided, overrun and corrupted by galloping mutation.

It’s a sci-fi adventure cum horror movie, but it has an intelligence to it. It’s not just about the thrills. It’s provocative, philosophical even, as was the book, as was Stalker too for what it matters. It asks questions, the answers to which are nuanced. We tend too easily, these days especially, to see things in either a positive or negative light, in terms of good and evil, when of course there are all sorts of things in between and different perspectives as well. And sometimes it’s just different, neither one thing or another and just itself – foreign to our way of thinking and our expectations.

The movie, in the end, is not about creatures or aliens looking to subvert our world, but about transformation and imitation, it’s about change.

I think I’ll be sitting on this movie for a few days more letting it settle in me. I like those sort of movies. This one is very well done.

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