Movie review – "Annihilation"

New sci-fi thriller offers a frightening look at our childhood's end


Tempo grade: A

The science fiction film tradition owes a lot to visionary, though crude, efforts of the 1950s.

You can see how pictures, such as "The War of the Worlds" gave way to "Independence Day," or how "It! The Terror from Beyond Space" begat "Alien." Both of those later films were due to advanced filmmaking tools that provided a gateway to depicting things on-screen no filmmaker 60 some years ago could ever hope to achieve.

That, of course, and a good story.

The same could be said of Alex Garland's thought-provoking new film, "Annihilation," and its roots in director Don Siegel's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." While the older black-and-white chiller was more a commentary on the McCarthy era's "Red Menace" scare of the 1950s, this movie takes one of its core ideas and extrapolates it to a logical -- and even more frightening -- conclusion.

Shaped as a mystery, the film, based upon the first book in a trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer, focuses on the strange experiences of a former soldier and brilliant biologist named Lena (Natalie Portman). The story is bookended by scenes of Lena being interrogated by people in hazmat suits.

In between, we learn that Lena's husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) has been missing for a long time after embarking on some kind of secret military mission. When he returns out of nowhere, with no recollection of how long he was gone, where he was or how he got home, Lena is drawn into a mind-bending puzzle, especially when Kane inexplicably begins exhibiting signs of radiation poisoning.

While he is being treated, Lena gradually discovers that Kane was with one of several scientific and military teams that have been sent into something called "The Shimmer."

Some years before, a meteor fell from space and crashed into a lighthouse on the coast of Florida. Local law enforcement went into the area to investigate and never returned.

Over time, "The Shimmer" enveloped the lighthouse and grew to include the land surrounding it, including a military base set up to study it. Garland's concept of "The Shimmer" is to depict it as a kind of undulating jellyfish-like bubble that is growing outward.

Inside it, everything terrestrial undergoes varying levels of elemental and psychic change. Under a microscope, we see normal cellular mitosis, but in "The Shimmer," the divided cells look markedly different.

Lena then joins an expedition led by a Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh): an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor and a linguist. The expedition is headed to the lighthouse. They are all armed, provisioned and prepared for anything. Or, so they think.

In "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," extraterrestrial seeds fell from space and grew pods that, as they grew, would replicate humans who would then annihilate the originals. The new people, now blank, emotionless and hive-minded, would then work to replicate and replace others until, we suspect, everyone in the world was alien, that is, unless Kevin McCarthy had anything to do with stopping them. "They're here already! You're next! You're next, You're next!" he shouted alarmingly at the end.

In "Annihilation," there is no such moment, but rather a more subtle suggestion that our belief in ourselves as a superior species is doomed to be shattered. Like the recent film, "Arrival" showed, whatever kind of life is out there, either in space or among parallel dimensions, it will be the tools of higher learning and a willingness to think beyond our comfort zones that will make our adolescence as a species survivable.

Sure, it's fiction. But, you never know.

"Annihilation" is rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.

It is showing Thursday through Saturday (April 26-28), 7 p.m., as part of the Movies on the Big Screen series at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit

Also showing in Taos

The following were compiled from press materials or opening weekend screenings.


MPAA rating: R for language and violence

Movies at the TCA

Australian indigenous detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) arrives in Goldstone on a missing persons inquiry. What seems like a simple investigation, however, opens a web of crime, corruption, trampling of land rights and human trafficking. Jay must pull his life together and bury his personal differences with a young local cop, Josh Waters (Alex Russell), so together they can bring justice to Goldstone.

The film was written and directed by Ivan Sen, an Australian indigenous filmmaker. He is a director, screenwriter and cinematographer as well as an editor, composer and sound designer.

This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (April 29), and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (April 30-May 2).

Movies at the TCA film series, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit

I Feel Pretty

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, some partial nudity and language

Mitchell Storyteller 7

In this comedy written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, a woman named Renee Bennett (Amy Schumer), who struggles with feelings of deep insecurity and low self-esteem, suffers a blow to the head one day. When she awakens and gets a look at herself in a mirror, what she sees is completely different.

We see she hasn’t changed, but now Renee sees herself as a stunningly beautiful person. Suddenly, she exudes confidence and bravery. This new attitude also brings her a new job, a love life and possibilities for a brighter future. Unfortunately, this movie falls prey to predictability, and Schumer’s trademark humor, which can be off-putting to some and hilarious to others, ends up the final word.

This film will be screened daily.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit

Paul, Apostle of Christ

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some violent content and disturbing images

Mitchell Storyteller 7

This film from director and co-writer Andrew Hyatt and screenwriter Terence Berden is the story of two men. Luke (Jim Caviezel), as a friend and physician, risks his life every time he ventures into the city of Rome to visit Paul (James Faulkner), who is held captive in Nero’s darkest, bleakest prison cell.

Before Paul’s death sentence can be enacted, Luke resolves to write another book, one that details the beginnings of “the way” and the birth of what will come to be known as the Christian church. But Nero is determined to rid Rome of Christians and does not flinch from executing them in the grisliest ways possible. Bound in chains, Paul’s struggle is internal.

Alone in the dark, he wonders if he has been forgotten, and if he has the strength to finish well. Two men struggle against a determined emperor and the frailties of the human spirit in order to bequeath the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

Costars Olivier Martínez, Joanne Whalley, and John Lynch.

This film will be screened daily.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit