When one is deciding whether or not a film is any good, a wise rule is to ask if the filmmakers answered the questions they posed. Sure, it might feel interesting when a movie has an open ending, and you've almost positively got those people in your life who extoll the virtues of a story that leaves it up to the viewer to suss out a meaning.
For us, though, it always feels sort of like a cop-out. Annihilation lands someplace in there, a beautiful movie adapted from the 2014 novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer that sadly leaves a few too many questions unanswered and falters despite stunning CGI and interesting ideas.
Natalie Portman is Lena, a soldier-turned-scientist whose husband (Oscar Isaac, who really seems to be in just about everything these days), still a soldier, shows up talking nonsense after being MIA for a full year. Portman is thus pulled into the black-op world of government intrigue whereupon she learns a meteor from outer space crash-landed near the coast and has resulted in a bizarre biological phenomenon known as "the shimmer," which threatens to overtake the globe with … they don't know what. Turns out her husband went into this thing with a squad of soldiers and that's why he's been missing, so, wouldn't you know it, Lena and some other scientist-types volunteer to get in there and solve the mystery.
It's beyond riveting for the first hour or so, but as we grasp wildly for answers alongside Lena and her crew, we eventually learn they're not really coming. Oh, we get surface information and potential theories about what's causing the blight and what it's doing to the area's biology, but rather than identifying what's really going on, we instead struggle through a bunch of weird flora and fauna with some serviceable surface information that might have been OK had the setup not been so juicy.
Writer-director Alex Garland (Ex Machina, 28 Days Later) joins forces with VanderMeer to mixed results—do we care about Lena's guilt or dying husband? Did we get enough of a feel from the others in the crew to care about their fates? We're hard-pressed to say for sure, even as some seriously spooky shit goes down, but by the time Lena reaches the meteor's epicenter and we reach the payoff, it's a pretty big letdown. Still, Jennifer Jason Leigh is a welcome addition as a heartless psychologist who repeatedly sends folks to their deaths, and the overall aesthetic is fantastic, even if the story fizzles out under the weight of the premise.
+Looks so cool; action bits are truly thrilling
-So wait, what just happened?
Directed by Garland
With Portman, Leigh and Isaac
Regal, Violet Crown, R, 115 min.