The release of Annihilation is causing shockwaves through the industry. Despite its mind-bending storyline, primarily female cast and spectacular visuals, the impact that it is having on the industry has more to do with the release structure as opposed to Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina) filmmaking ability. Paramount Studios decided to release the film in theatres in the US, Canada and China, but continued a week later to distribute it in all other markets via Netflix. A multitude of articles have addressed the influence of the streaming service and the lack of confidence that the studio had in the sci-fi spectacle, but the question that needs to be asked first is on the quality of the film. Should the film have had a chance in theatres around the world or did it deserve to be shuffled onto the small screens all together?

Alex Garland may not be a household name, but his 2014 sci-fi gem, Ex-Machina earned him enough recognition for larger studios to give him a go in the director’s chair. He brings to life the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy based on the unnerving and misunderstood entity named, The Shimmer. The film centres on the Johns Hopkins biologist and former soldier, Lena (Natalie Portman) and her Special Ops husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac). He has been missing for a year on a secret mission, but mysteriously shows up in their home and does not seem to be himself. While asking him about his mission, Lena notices blood in his water glass. Before arriving at the hospital, the couple is apprehended by a secret task force and they find themselves in an undisclosed government facility.

While the renowned biologist comes to terms with the undisclosed illness affecting her husband, she experiences a subtle interrogation by the psychologist, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The conversation leads to questions of her husband’s mission and how much Lena was aware of what type of exposure her husband had during the operation. As Ventress shares more of the details of the operation, Lena becomes are of the alien entity that is affecting the region. Every team that had been sent into the translucent force of Area X, have not returned. In an attempt to find the answers to her husband’s ailment and how he was able to escape when no one else was able, Lena chooses to join the next team to seek the answers to this unexplained phenomenon.

Reminiscent of 2016’s Arrival, the mystery behind the apparent invasion of this alien life force is not clear. Leaving the story to be a physical, spiritual and psychological battle within the team of explorers who eventually manage to piece together answers to the supernatural force. Unlike Denis Villeneuve’s masterful work, this invader proves to have a sinister mission for humanity, which is painfully apparent from the title. Annihilation does not achieve the same quality of the Amy Adams film, but it does warrant a look from sci-fi and psychological thriller aficionados.

What differentiates this film from others within this genre comes down to the twist on a familiar premise, the strength of the casting and the understated but poignant visual effects. Sampling from the creation narrative, VanderMeer’s consideration of the beauty and  the terrifying notion of what it would take to recreate a new world is intriguing and should lead to healthy discussions after seeing the film. Supporting this refracted depiction of the reconstruction of earth’s existence is a superb cast of central characters who provide a different element through this transcendent journey.

‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.’ Genesis 1:1-4

The subtle mastery of Alex Garland’s creation comes in his use of lighting. His choice of visual effects do complement this mind-bending narrative. Without giving away any of this sci-fi horror, this vision should challenge anyone to think what it would have been like to see a world created. These effects provide a magnificent and overwhelming glimpse at what the original creation potentially could have looked like first hand. Giving a vivid view of the Bible’s straightforward and minimalistic telling of the creation of the world in the first two chapters of Genesis. Even though this film is a less majestic depiction than the actual creation account, it does open the door to what may have been seen during the beginning of existence on earth.

The primary regret for those who were left to watch Annihilation on Netflix is not getting to see this sensory spectacle displayed on a big screen. It has so many of the components of a great sci-fi thriller and is provocative on many levels, but it does leave one feeling cheated that this film was not seen in its full visual glory. Paramount executives could say that the mind-bending story may have been too much for people to handle, but it is unfortunate they did not allow most of the world to see the film as it was originally intended.

Check out the original creation story for yourself: Genesis 1-3

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.