The Shimmer is beautiful. Inside, The
Shimmer is even more gorgeous. This would be a bountiful tourist
attraction, except for one problem -- those who go into The
Shimmer never come out. This can be daunting, given that the
territory The Shimmer is encompassing is expanding.
This is the basis for "Annihilation,"
the latest sci-fi film from writer-director Alex Garland
("Ex Machina"). Based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer,
"Annihilation" explores a theme of many science fiction books
and movies -- things arriving from outer space that are
mysterious and can either be beneficial to Earth or
catastrophic. What makes "Annihilation" stand out is that it
focuses on a team of five women who without hesitation plan to
enter The Shimmer despite knowing it very well could be a
At the center of this group -- though
not the leader -- is Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist who is
personally invested in this mission because her husband Kane
(Oscar Isaac) previously went into The Shimmer -- which formed
after what appeared to be a meteor crashed into a lighthouse --
in a top-secret mission that Lena knew nothing about. She had
been under the impression he was on some covert military
Kane is missing for a year, presumed
dead by Lena until he shows up at home one evening. But clearly
something is wrong with him mentally and physically. When his
condition becomes critical, Lena summons an ambulance, but en
route to the hospital the ambulance is stopped by government
agents who seize the extremely ill Kane and sedate Lena.
Lena later awakens to find herself in
some fortified facility called Southern Reach, located a mile or
so from The Shimmer. There she meets the stoic, enigmatic
psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who enlightens
Lena about what Kane had been up to the last year. Kane is vital
because he is the only person to have returned from The Shimmer,
although being near death, anything he can reveal about what he
discovered in there may perish with him..
Ventress tells Lena she is going to lead
another expedition into The Shimmer, and Lena insists on going
in also. Lena then meets the other members of the group:
physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), anthropologist Cassie
Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) and paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina
Rodriguez). Lena opts not to tell these women that Kane is her
Were it not for the fact that The
Shimmer apparently has racked up a death toll, the women might
have felt they had entered a paradise. That illusion fades when
it seems they are having inexplicable bouts of amnesia. Then
they have a terrifying encounter with a mutated alligator with
shark teeth. This scary episode at least makes the women
happy to have Lena on hand, as her adept handling of a weapon
prevents them being an appetizer for an alligator.
Their mission to unravel the mystery
does lead to discoveries, but at quite a price. The group's
excursion into The Shimmer is seen through flashbacks as Lena,
being questioned by a government official named Lomax (Benedict
Wong), recalls the key incidents.
But even at the end, Lena cannot provide
definitive answers other than to theorize what the purpose of
The Shimmer is.
All five of the main cast members get an
opportunity to stand out, however briefly. Cassie holds an
opinion as to why each of the women was willing to take
this potentially fatal trip, mostly pointing to rough patches or
tragedies these people endured earlier in their lives. Anya is
the tough one in the group and consequently the one most on
guard for any breakdown within the group's dynamics. Josie is
the one who correctly identifies one key element of what is
happening in The Shimmer and is able to make peace with its
Ventress remains a mystery throughout.
Mostly devoid of emotion and focused on the mission, it almost
seems she has some sinister motivation, which proves not to be
Lena, though not the leader,
really is the emotional core of the group, because at this point
she has the most personally at stake and sees the need to keep
things together until the answers are found and they all can
return to the Southern Reach -- where she might have a chance to
save Kane's life.
the end credits to the film's 115-minute running time,
"Annihilation" requires a brisk pace to tell the story, leaving
little calm time to focus on the personas of the five women.
Luckily, the script by Garland is adept at making the most
of what such pauses in the action to help us learn about the
characters and subsequently find empathy with them..
And like Lena's inability to be 100
percent sure what happened, "Annihilation" also leaves
audience not all that sure.
"ANNIHILATION" Official Trailer:
For all fans of movies that veer way
off the mainstream path, the various new media platforms are a
gold mine in being able to see these projects that, while they
do not command lavish budgets, nevertheless are gems simply
because of the passion that went into making them.
Tristan Clay and Destinie Orndoff are
young and energetic fillm-makers who co-founded Deranged Minds
Entertainment, and with the release of their first full-length
feature, “Red Eye,” on VOD, Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc., appear
to be on their way to great careers.
As indicated by the name of their
company, Clay and Orndoff are not putting out pretty little
family flicks. “Red Eye” is a full-on horror slasher movie, one
that will please hardcore fans of the genre.
As has been noted on this blog before,
great technological advances have enabled people to make movies
at low cost that do not look like they are products of a limited
cash flow. The cinematography on “Red Eye” by Robert W. Fillon
is superb, with stunning visuals and excellent covering of
nighttime shots. The sound editing is well-syncronized.
Directed by Clay, from a script he and
Orndoff co-wrote, “Red Eye” does employ some of the staples of
the horror-slasher genre: people venturing into an unfamiliar,
often remote environment where hostilities seem inevitable.
Survival becomes a test of resourcefulness and resilience, and
often the characters fall way short of these traits.
Gage Barker (Scott King) is a passionate
young film-maker who wants to put together a documentary on the
legend of Red Eye, a man who turned to cannibalism to survive
and all too soon was overwhelmed by an insatiable appetite
for blood. Yeah, I know: documentary . . . legend. You think:
“The Blair Witch Project.” Yeah, same premise. But from there,
Unlike “Blair Witch,” where we really
never learn much about Heather, Josh and Mike, “Red Eye” takes
time to explore the four main characters, flaws and all.
Gage enlists the help of three friends
and they embark on a trip to Black Creek, West Virginia,
supposedly the area where Red Eye indulged in his ghastly
feeding.There is tension in the group. Jake (Hayden Wilberger)
is a first-class jerk, and throughout the movie, every time he
seems to redeem himself, he reverts to his crass demeanor.
Rykyr Jacobs (Orndoff) is a young lady
still smarting from being a social outcast because of her
macabre tastes in movies. She defiantly boasts of being proudly
different, but the scars are there. She and Jake are an item
although the relationship is very slippery and can get abusive.
Ryann O’Riley (Heather Dorff) is
probably the most messed up of the bunch. A victim of sexual
abuse as a child yet forced by circumstances to live with her
unloving mother, she is pretty self-perceptive of her
potentially disastrous lifestyle and carries the burden of guilt
and desperate need to find love.
Gage seems to be the most stable of
the foursome, although his obsession with this documentary
project tends to make him seem detached from the group.
While driving on the back roads, the
group encounters Bea (Jessica Cameron, who has directed two
pretty intense horror movies herself, “Mania” and “Truth or
Dare”), stranded by car trouble. Bea is friendly and confirms
Gage’s claims about Red Eye, saying that her autistic brother
Barry has in fact seen Red Eye and been traumatized by the
After a brief hike further into the
wilds, the group prepares to settle in for the night. Gage and
Ryann go on a hunt for firewood and take a break during which
Ryann unloads emotionally on Gage. Meanwhile, Jake elevates his
creep persona during a physical encounter with Rykyr.
Up to this point, “Red Eye” is pretty
calm, but after it gets dark, all hell breaks loose. Once the
violence starts, be warned that the scenes are unrelentingly
brutal. John Lauterbach earns kudos for some explicit and
gruesome special effects.
The character development is the key in
delivering a potent wallop as the four young people deal with
terror and pain, and “Red Eye” leaves the audience with the
question: What is the real horror — the legend that never dies,
or the obsession that keeps it alive?
“Red Eye” currently can be
accessed via these platforms:
Google Play: https://tinyurl.com/yd5hnto8