Annihilation, the movie about self-destruction

So yes, I did see this movie! It is not the glory of the book, but it was far closer than I had any hopes of it being (so many women! so much biology!). The changes it made seemed to be in service of making a story that would work as a movie, and I think it succeeded at that task (I quite like its decision to reframe the situation into something more focused on self-destructive behaviors, as it gives a nice overarching theme). It’s also got some lovely visuals. Overall, would recommend!

It is, however, a much simpler story, the sort of story where at various points a character will say, “What’s going on here is…” and we can take it at face value.

There’s a couple attempts to harness the idea of altered perceptions that was so important to the book, but that’s easily the weakest point of the movie. Were the guts really moving? Yes, and more, we the viewers are watching a movie and so easily accept impossible things while finding it difficult to empathize with people insisting those things didn’t happen. Did our main character lie about the monster bear attack? No. We not only explicitly see the monster bear, and explicitly see it dragging the other character away, and then explicitly see the body of the dead person mauled from a monster bear later, but she’s our viewpoint character – the camera simply never leaves her long enough for her to get up to anything. The idea of going crazy keeps getting brought up but doesn’t work because we lack that sense of altered perceptions. From the outside view, they see something upsetting, they refuse to believe what was being shown and just assume the previous group killed each other because they went crazy, then one of them goes nuts in a way that might be mildly bolstered by an insanity effect but is at least 99% stress and paranoia over the belief the previous group killed each other because they went crazy. The characters talk about feeling twisted and warped, but you can describe this movie scene by scene without any confusion.

I’m not sure why this is – given people still complained the movie was hard to follow, it may have been the right decision, but I wish they’d done more with the fact the place doesn’t just warp but duplicate and resurrect. They were trying to play with a concept of self, but even near the end, with her husband and his doupleganger, there’s not even the possibility of getting mixed up. We get a good look at the guy who shows up at the beginning, and we get a good look at the guy in the video midway in, and then we get a good look at the both of them and then we see which one kills himself. Meanwhile, there’s never any question about which her makes it out, because it spends the time looking like human mercury and burning it burns everything. Even the bear-monster with the voice of the dead woman is stated to be the same bear with a tiny bit of her last thoughts in it and not her brought back to life as a maddened bear monster herself.

But I will say I think it did a good job with the rest of the reality violation idea work for a laymen audience. The bit about it refracting all forms of data was a pretty simple explanation that still hits a good cosmic horror place, and the biological elements pointed out were all good, even if sometimes the language wasn’t exactly right (the reason a croc-shark hybrid is utterly impossible isn’t because two species can’t crossbreed, plants can have point mutations that might make for multiple types of flower or leaf but ones that elaborate and distinct can’t happen, etc). Although not said explicitly, I thought the use of color worked really well – from a visual perspective, the human eye is drawn to color so it’s much easier to notice the variation than a bunch of green leaves that are different shapes or the growth pattern of different stems, but also in nature, things are a particular color for a reason and five otherwise identical fungus tufts in completely different colors is deeply unnatural. The riot of color informs us, before we get into the blatant impossibilities of cute deerling, that color’s normal ability to inform us is gone, that everything is a jumble of nonsense.

3 Comments

  1. illhousen says:

    I largely agree with this. The movie is a much simpler story than the book, but as a self-contained story it works well enough and hit the nice cosmic horror angle.

    I’d say I’m somewhat disappointed in the protagonist’s characterization as she lacks that sense of alienation and dissolution prevalent in Ghost Bird, and I feel that the movie could have gone there and explored that theme more.

    I’ve actually heard that there was a motion by one of the producers to simplify the movie further based on negative test screenings. While the motion was rejected, similar concerns were probably responsible for the overall makeup of the story.

    1. Farla says:

      Yeah, but she was more Ghost Bird than I expected, at least! It was always going to be hard to pull off when the camera has to be outside her head (and of the ways to force her to be “relatable”, at least relegating her being emotional to a ton of sex scenes meant it didn’t get too much in the way of the actual story). Do really wish they’d kept the no-name thing, though…

      It honestly seemed to be pretty straightforward, more so than other movies, so I’m thinking the dumbing down is because it was meant for TV, where you’re supposed to be able to follow the plot if you spend half the time not looking at the screen, and the reason it wasn’t dumbed down enough is because if you spend half the time n another room, you’ll miss the scene where it was stated that no one’s sure what’s going on and then be like “but wait, what was going on???”

      1. illhousen says:

        It was meant for theater release, from what I’ve heard. The director outright stated that the movie was meant to be watched on the big screen.

        The deal with Netflix was a late decision due to drama between producers.

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