Alex Garland is hands down one of the most exciting voices we have working in science fiction. After the years he spent turning out first-rate speculative scripts, both original concepts like 28 Days Later and adaptations like Never Let Me Go, Garland made his directorial debut with the tight, contained A.I. masterpiece Ex Machina. With his sophomore feature, Annihilation, Garland freely adapts from Jeff VanderMeer‘s novel of the same name, drastically increasing the scope of the story he’s trying to tell and his ambition along with it.
The film stars Natalie Portman as a grieving soldier-scientist, Lena, who hasn’t seen her black-ops husband, Kane (Oscar Issac), for over a year. He left on a mystery mission and never came back. Until one day, he does, wandering into their home absent-minded, distinctly different, and coughing up blood. In short order, Lena finds herself with the opportunity to take the same mission as her husband — head into a mysterious, dangerous place known as Area X in search of answers. Turns out the government has sent in multiple teams; soldiers, animals, even drones, but Kane is the one and only thing to have ever come back.
So Lena heads into Area X alongside four other female scientists and doctors. There’s Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the distant team leader, a psychologist, who has seen team after team disappear into Area X and needs to know what’s in there for herself; Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), an EMT with a history of addiction who is like a lit flame, always threatening to become a dangerous blaze; Radek (Tessa Thompson), a meek scientist with a history of self-abuse, and Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), the friendliest of the bunch, who harbors a dark truth of her own. Together, these wounded, brilliant women head into mystery, and the moment they cross into the luminescent, rainbow-tinged perimeter known as “The Shimmer,” the whole world transforms into a kaleidoscope of impossible biological deviation as they seek to get to the heart of what’s causing the mystifying mutations that greet them at every turn.