Preconceptions Annihilated

(This post was delayed by several hours due to web server issues.)

My roommate and friend, elegy nevermore, and I literally just finished watching the film Annihilation and I’m going to simply sum up the experience as saying I’m beautifully confused.

You see, this is a very sci-fi film but it’s not your usual shoot ’em up. Following in the scientific genes of Contact, from twenty years ago, Annihilation is more an exploratory film than one that answers questions. As such, there are no clear answers in its ending, which both impresses and perplexes me. From a writer’s perspective, it’s very easy to slap an ending on a film (or book) and let people argue over whether the whole thing was good or bad as a result. Gift wrapping an ending, one with a clear ending, is almost all Hollywood knows how to do these days. The avant garde pose questions for which even they struggle to answer, which beg for discussion to truly understand, and it is in this category that Annihilation falls.

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To be clear, in my spoiler dominant tradition, this film doesn’t have an ending that will resolve anything. You will leave the theater asking yourself if Natalie Portman’s character is the original that started the film, the alien copy, both, or something completely fucking new. If you leave the theater with a clear decisive answer, you weren’t paying attention.

The most horrible realization about this movie for me isn’t the slow pace, the acting (which is great), the vague choose your own ending conclusion, the way it was edited, or anything else with regards to Annihilation itself. It’s the fact that it’s being murdered in cold blood by the juggernaut that is Black Panther, and will not get the kind of attention I feel it deserves. When word gets out about the ending, this film is just plain done. Which is a damned shame.

Hollywood doesn’t like to take chances on films, especially the ones that are more daring to do something different. The studios would rather invest in sequels to known moneymakers, remakes, and reboots than take a chance on something new. Every now and then, something manages to sneak through their filter, something original that captures the intellect as well as the eye, something that challenges the preconceived notions the viewer has of the film… Art instead of the cookie cutter, mass produced film whose plot really doesn’t matter in the end. Annihilation is every inch that piece of art, and it’s a fucking shame the studios chose to schedule it against another great film — and Black Panther really is a great film — during the last weeks of winter to release. This should have been a late spring or early fall release, when it could’ve been the spectacle that would draw crowds to the theater.

But I get it. Black Panther was probably expected to die a quick and quiet death since it features a mostly black cast and is about a black superhero. So the studio targeted it with Annihilation and is getting its ass kicked for its trouble. Or at least, this is my suspicion.

Whatever the truth may be in this matter, Annihilation is a film that deserves to be seen. It’s intelligent, well acted, lead by a strong cast that happens to be mostly female, the characters are flawed and well rounded, and fundamentally, there’s no villain to be defeated, just an event that needs to be understood. Annihilation is this year’s The Arrival, and a spiritual successor to Contact. It deserves so much more than it will likely get in the theater.

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