Netflix's latest movie gamble seems (for once) to have paid off, going by the first reviews for Annihilation, the latest sci-fi thriller from Ex Machina's Alex Garland.
The streaming giant holds the international rights for the movie, and will release it in the UK on March 12, a few weeks after its US release – and after a series of critical misfires in Bright, The Cloverfield Paradox and now Mute, it seems this one is worth the wait.
Natalie Portman plays a biologist who ventures into a zone called the Shimmer with a team of other women, after her husband (Oscar Isaac) comes back as the only survivor of a previous expedition there. When they go in, they discover an alien-like world of mutating plants and animals.
Adapted from the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation has been hailed by critics for its imagination and visuals, as well as its thrills, many comparing it favourably to previous monster hits such as The Thing and Alien, as well as Ex Machina.
Here are what some of the critics have been saying:
"Annihilation, while reminiscent of other sci-fi and horror films, remains an unusual proposition for a studio. It's scary at times but then also contemplative and opaque and the intriguing ending will prove divisive. Garland spoke of his disappointment that most international audiences (bar those in China) won't get to see the film at the cinema, and given the ambitious scope, one can understand such frustration. But Annihilation is more than mere visuals and it will shock, fascinate and haunt audiences, whatever screen it's watched on."
"Following his sharp focus on artificial intelligence in Ex Machina, Garland has written and directed a film that is broader but scene-for-scene just as masterful. Annihilation is philosophical about human nature and identity, without being in the least pretentious. It addresses the psychology of self-destructive behaviour. And it drops in effective jump-scares. Mutated beasts, including a bear and an enormous white alligator, pounce on the team apparently out of nowhere. Throughout, Garland fills the screen with images that become ever more ravishing as the team gets closer to some answers."
"For those willing to put in the effort, Annihilation achieves that rare feat of great genre cinema, where audiences are not merely thrilled (the film is both intensely scary and unexpectedly beautiful in parts) but also feel as if their minds have been expanded along the way: It is, or at least could be interpreted as, an alien invasion story in which the extra-terrestrial entity has no form, but instead works with whatever it comes in contact with - like some kind of nasty virus, or a particularly malignant cancer."
"Annihilation is a ferocious, feral, female-centric update of fearsome monster classics like The Thing and Alien. In the much-anticipated follow-up to his auspicious debut feature Ex Machina four years ago, writer-director Alex Garland shows an unerring hand in building a sense of unease about what evil lurks in a forest that's been taken over by some kind of 'other', and then making it pay off. Fright fans as well as connoisseurs of seriously good filmmaking should turn this finely tuned thriller into a much-needed hit for Paramount and, as the remaining two entries in Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy have already been published, the studio should get the next film installment rolling post haste."
"As artificial intelligence expands from sci-fi conceit to everyday reality, its implications inspire both horror and awe. Few recent movies have explored that divide better than writer-director Alex Garland's robot rebellion thriller Ex Machina, and now it has some company with his stunning followup, which expands his thematic focus: Where Ex Machina argued that the machines are a few steps ahead of us, Annihilation suggests that the universe is even further along. At once a gripping jungle survival thriller and an alluring sci-fi puzzle, Garland's heady gambit confirms he's one of the genre's best working filmmakers."
"A psychological mystery laced with environmental disaster and alien-scary juju, Alex Garland's elegantly unsettling Annihilation is here to shake up your night at the movies in the most mind-bendy way possible, but without foregoing the pleasures of an ambitious sci-fi entertainment."
"In a way, Annihilation is like Arrival meets Event Horizon meets The Abyss, and in another, it's not like anything. The premise feels vaguely familiar for a sci-fi premise. But what writer/director Alex Garland does with it (and Garland's version is apparently very different from the Jeff VanderMeer book on which Annihilation is based) feels unique. In fact, it's such a model of 'show don't tell' storytelling that I kept wondering how a book about this could even be written. Whatever else it might be, Annihilation is such a singular expression of cinematic language that trying to describe it with words feels inadequate."
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