Directed by Alex Garland
Five women probe the unknown.
The director of Ex Machina has just made the kind of trippy sci-fi masterpiece that one of every two viewers simply will have no patience for, said Richard Roeper in the Chicago Sun-Times. Natalie Portman, in a performance “as good as anything she’s ever done,” stars as a flinty biologist sent with four other women to explore a swampland that an alien life-form seems to have occupied. Before the loony factor fully kicks in, the movie “does a masterful job of building the mystery, dropping plot hints like so many bread crumbs,” and “jolting us with ‘Gotcha!’ moments.” The drama starts slowly, though, with “lots of show-and-tell,” plus a prelude establishing why Portman’s Lena cares so much about the vanished previous expeditions, said Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal. It’s only when the five armed explorers cross the barrier of opalescent light that shrouds the top-secret biosphere that Annihilation turns “plainly, unrestrainedly enjoyable,” becoming a “daringly original” foray into a genetically mutated landscape and unanswerable mysteries. A 2014 Jeff VanderMeer novel provided the source material, and “of course the book was better,” because it explained less, said Alan Scherstuhl in The Village Voice. But “this is no botch job.” Director Alex Garland almost had to devise a new ending, and he delivered “something wholly new and eerily satisfying.” ■