Fresh off her first Oscar nomination after working with Quentin Tarantino, Jennifer Jason Leigh may next be working with a relatively new filmmaker on an incredibly promising project. Screenwriter Alex Garland is no stranger to Hollywood having penned the scripts for films like The Beach, 28 Days Later, Never Let Me Go, and Dredd, but he only just got behind the camera himself for last year’s terrific Ex Machina, which he wrote and directed. Garland landed a Directors Guild of America Award for First Feature, and he’s been developing a follow-up for the past few months that promises to be just as engrossing—if not moreso—than Ex Machina.
Annihilation is an adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s brilliantly terrifying enviro-horro novel of the same name, and while Garland got off to a great start by signing Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), and Tessa Thompson (Creed) to star, there was one more key role in the female-centric ensemble that was attracting some big names. Folks like Frances McDormand, Julianne Moore, and Tilda Swinton were in the mix, but The Wrap now reports that an offer has gone out to Jennifer Jason Leigh to fill the crucial fourth slot and she’s eager to sign on.
The story follows the expedition of four women who are sent into the mysterious “Area X”, a portion of land in the United States that has been secretly quarantined due to abnormal activity. They are the twelfth expedition sent into Area X on behalf of the mysterious Southern Reach organization. The second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third in a hail of gunfire as the members turned on one another, and the eleventh expedition returned as shells of their former selves, all dying of cancer shortly after coming back. Portman plays the principal character, a biologist, and while The Wrap’s report doesn’t say, I’m 99% sure Leigh would be playing the psychologist in the group.
As a massive fan of VanderMeer’s novel and its mind-bending sequels—which is collectively known as “The Southern Reach Trilogy”—I can’t think of a better filmmaker than Garland to tackle the adaptation, and the cast he’s put together here is fantastic. Scott Rudin (No Country for Old Men) is producing, and production is aiming to get underway this year, once Portman’s schedule clears up.
Read the official synopsis for VanderMeer’s book Annihilation below, which I highly suggest picking up.
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.
The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one anotioner, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers―they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding―but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.