“Desolation Tries to colonize you.”
Book to Box Office: Annihilation
Based On: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Expected Release Date (US): TBA 2017
Directed by: Alex Garland with screenplay by Alex Garland
Summary: An expedition team consisting of a biologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist, and a psychologist journey to the mysterious Area X and discover an underground tower that completely changes what they thought they knew about the world and their very selves.
Working For It: VanderMeer’s novel is a wonderfully engaging mystery that doesn’t provide much in the way of clear answers, partly because it’s book one in the Southern Reach Trilogy and partly because its horror comes from the unknown. While this may seem like a disadvantage, I’ve often found that the best horror doesn’t connect all the dots and instead leaves a few to linger in their inscrutable power. In the vein of Ridley Scott’s Alien, Annihilation has a massive scope that’s contained to a centralized location, and introduces structures and organisms that hint at something much older and more dangerous than what we’re accustomed to encountering in the natural world. In the background of this expedition is the mysterious agency known as the Southern Reach, which serves to make the novel’s theme of manipulation all the more morally dubious. Despite some similarities to Alien and the works of Lovecraft in terms of Annihilation’s horror-science makeup, the chief concerns of the story are driven by a personal narrative that ensures it’s unlike anything we’ve encountered before. The book’s primary characters are all women, which provides a unique genre opportunity that film desperately needs right now. With the careful character attention of a bottle-drama, VanderMeer manages to make all of our world’s natural sciences from biology to psychology personally horrific, and binds them through a primal power that’s both darkly witty and deeply disorienting. There’s little doubt that Alex Garland will be able to match the novel’s tone and that racially-diverse cast of Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Oscar Isaac will be able to tap into the complex nature of VanderMeer’s characters.
Working Against It: The novel is told in first-person past-tense from the perspective of the Biologist. Her perspective is powered by hindsight, but it also becomes clear that she may not be the most reliable narrator as the story progresses. There’s no doubt that Portman will absolutely nail the Biologist’s unraveling mental state (see Black Swan) but it will be interesting to see to what degree the film allows us to get inside her head and to understand her unique perspective on human beings. One of the most important things the film can do is ensure that the Biologist doesn’t become a victim in a horror movie, but a scientist whose own volition enhances the horror. But we’re talking about Alex Garland, one of the greatest genre screenwriters of his time, so the chances of anything working against this film is pretty slim. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that Garland doesn’t skip over the dolphin scene because it’s one of the most unsettling moments in horror fiction.
Wild Card: Garland has revealed that he started writing the screenplay for this adaptation before VanderMeer’s second two novels, Authority and Acceptance, were released. It’s unknown if Garland or Paramount has plans for the latter two books but because of this factor there’s a chance that Annihilation won’t concentrate on the setup for the latter books and that the film’s ending may be altered a bit.
Verdict: Annihilation is currently one of my most anticipated movies of 2017. It has everything going for it from a phenomenal cast to a genius filmmaker and screenwriter. If I had to place a bet, I’d say that Annihilation is going to a be one of the most essential horror films, and one of the most essential science fiction films of the 21st century, and one that’s going to connect with genre fans and Awards voters. The most popular question amongst film fans in 2017 will be “What did you think of Star Wars Episode VIII?” but the second most popular question will be: “Have you seen Annihilation, yet?”