'Annihilation' director Alex Garland talks us through its mesmerizing ending


Taking on the future in the new science fiction movie Annihilation has got director Alex Garland facing issues of the present day.

What would Garland do for an encore? Annihilation is a sci-fi film that works well as a straight-up horror film, much like Alien used a sci-fi premise to deliver the scares.

Garland chooses to focus on the surreal and alien nature of the environment under the shimmer, the barrier that separates "Area X" from the world.

Moviegoers, meanwhile, may wish they had machetes to hack through this trippy but confusing and ultimately less than fully satisfying sci-fi hodgepodge written and directed by Alex Garland, based on Jeff VanderMeer's "Southern Reach" trilogy.

While "Annihilation" reunites Garland with one of his "Ex Machina" stars, Oscar Isaac, the movie is carried by an up-to-the-task Natalie Portman. It doesn't take long for Lena, who Portman gives some genuine emotional weight in a movie that mostly just asks its characters to react to the freaky, to realize something is wrong with Kane. However, one can't shake the feeling that a good portion of Annihilation's time in the "shimmer" is filler moderately less fascinating than the full-blown bizarreness that is to come. And even if she does, will she be the same person she was when she ventured into it? Do we genuinely have identity, or are we only a conglomeration of nerves and synapses creating the illusion of it?

After class, she is invited by a colleague to a party that weekend, but she declines, stating she has plans to paint "our" bedroom, quickly correcting it to "her" bedroom. The lengthy setup and stakes-laying is at once impressively slow and contemplatively paced and also completely lacking in any faith that we could invest our interest in a woman without some drama involving her husband. Someone I respected gave it to me, and said, 'I signed this. As others have pointed out, there's nothing to say Paramount won't do just that if the money equation adds up to boatloads of predicted cash. On the way to the hospital, they're intercepted by a bunch of government spooks who have also been wondering where the hell Kane went.

Soon enough, large mutant creatures of assorted persuasions start emerging from the forest, which itself takes on ever-more weird and overgrown looks as the women proceed deeper into the Shimmer. Is it of extraterrestrial origin?

WATCH: Oscar Isaac and Alex Garland on filming Annihilation, practical effects and more

In a new Buzzfeed interview, Portman continues to air her rage and indignation for all the world to read. Every mission sent into the Shimmer vanishes. Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is surprisingly forthcoming: There's some kind of force field that's taken over a nearby swampland, a phenomenon no one can explain-though they call it The Shimmer, its iridescent borders like the slick gloss of a soap bubble, or the rainbow sheen on gasoline. It's ideal for the leader of the group, and there are some rich, well-explored dynamics between her, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny that play out as they venture into this landscape that is so deeply changed by whatever it has come in contact with.

This is a basic question that returns again and again, and it lays the foundation for the themes of existential paranoia that Garland dives into during the last act of "Annihilation". Whether they should be attributed exclusively to VanderMeer or to an amalgamation of Garland and him, there are some interesting concepts put forth in "Annihilation". It's a failure that Annihilation never overcomes. His work is very steady, very purposeful.

Portman is eminently watchable as Lena, who slowly realizes that she's in way over her head.

Anhillation is less about the plot, or even its relationship/cancer metaphor, and more interested in how we become different people by choice or by tragedy.

At times "Annihilation" has the chilling subtlety of one of those Ray Bradbury adaptations where on the surface everything appears to be normal, but we know - we just know - something's not quite right. The estrangement between Kane and Lena may be framed in near-cosmic terms, but at its core is a much more simple inquiry, wondering whether two people can build a marriage anew after changing and almost destroying who they were together. At least on a first viewing, it's not all that satisfying. The film has one eye on the "final girl" structure of horror films throughout its expedition, and the ending takes that phrase, turns it inside out and shatters it into a thousand refracted points of light.

Runtime: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

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