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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a spooky and mysterious poem. Of course, I could have used either of the movies from the last two days, but this one works too, with its theme of unchecked change hopefully providing the chill factor I was going for.)

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The world is changing before my eyes,
And what a surprise
To notice mutations that God never tried
That eons would normally cover and hide.

That tree over there was not always a tree.
Nor was that creature that lurks in its shade.
Should I be afraid?
For I know what they are,
But what kind of people did they use to be?

Betrayed by their cells, too minute to resist,
They changed and exchanged what had made them exist.
What monsters are born from a change so extreme,
A mutable dream
Where men were not always the beasts that they seem?

Are questions of sanity signs that you’re sane?
Just being here mixes unease in my brain.
For I’m not immune;
My own skin’s a cocoon.
When it hatches, how much of myself will remain?

MPAA Rating: R (for some language and gruesome violence)

From the trailers, Annihilation looked like the kind of movie to follow in the footsteps of Arrival with its slow-burn, high-concept science fiction. Or maybe that’s just what I wished it was. It’s actually closer in spirit to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and while most critics considered that a point in Annihilation’s favor, it’s not for me.

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Natalie Portman plays a cellular biologist and ex-soldier named Lena, who recounts her story to a hazmat-suit-wearing Benedict Wong. After her soldier husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) disappears on a mission, he returns a year later changed and distant, and Lena soon learns where he has been: a forested region of Florida, where a shimmering, expanding wall has puzzled scientists and swallowed any team sent to investigate it. Along with a head psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a paramedic (Gina Rodriguez), a physicist (Tessa Thompson), and a geomorphologist (Tuva Novotny), Lena enters “the Shimmer” in an effort to unravel its mysteries.

I’ll admit writer-director Alex Garland’s Annihilation has the high acting and production standards that modern sci-fi deserves, and it’s a home run at least on a visual level. The set-up is superbly intriguing, and Lena’s journey into the Shimmer is buoyed by the allure of the unknown. Signals and light are unexplainably altered. Monsters and strange species lurk out of sight. The evidence they find of Kane’s mission challenges their sanity.

It’s Alien-level tension and uncertainty (or at least Prometheus-level), but all this mystery has to lead somewhere for it to be worthwhile, and Annihilation’s ending is just too ambiguous for its own good. That’s where the comparisons to 2001 ring true, with the largely wordless climax playing out like a fever dream of compelling but nebulous menace. In the end, though, its unanswered questions just left me puzzled by its enigmatic lack of resolution.

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It’s odd that this would be my gripe when I commended the ambiguity of The Endless just a couple days ago. I guess The Endless was open to interpretation in a way that suggested a complexity that was justifiably out of reach (and at least the main plot got some resolution), whereas Annihilation seemed more intentionally esoteric, like a puzzle where the writer was hiding pieces from you and chuckling at his own shrewdness. Maybe that makes no sense, and maybe others will enjoy the film’s mind-twisting, but Annihilation left me unsatisfied, just as my VC was left unsatisfied by the novel on which it was based (and by all the changes made by the filmmakers). I enjoyed the set-up, but not where it led. With its middling box office returns, they may or may not adapt the other books in the series, but either way, I’m not sure the resolution is worth caring about.

Best line: (Dr. Ventress) “Then, as a psychologist, I think you’re confusing suicide with self-destruction. Almost none of us commit suicide, and almost all of us self-destruct. In some way, in some part of our lives. We drink, or we smoke, we destabilize the good job… and a happy marriage. But these aren’t decisions, they’re… they’re impulses. In fact, you’re probably better equipped to explain this than I am.”
(Lena) “What does that mean?”
(Ventress) “You’re a biologist. Isn’t the self-destruction coded into us? Programmed into each cell?”


Rank: Dishonorable Mention


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