*Sorry folks, spoilers ahead.*
“They tie one of the members of their expedition down, cut his stomach open with a knife and he’s alive and he’s gritting his teeth and getting through this, but his insides are moving around and their shimmering with that exact oil slick texture that you were talking about before. I was a human pretzel on the couch at that point, just squirming, that was next level.” – David Molloy, ‘Nothing 2 Fear’ podcast.
The fear is real, the danger is not, but try telling your body that during some of the scariest moments of Alex Garland’s new film “Annihilation”. The sci-fi/ body horror/ thriller reaches beyond the pale to lay claim to some of the most iconic horror sequences in recent movie history. Watching this film isn’t just an intellectual experience, it involves the whole body. Goose bumps, flinches and facial contortions abound as the visceral, mind bending imagery plays out in front of you.
I’ll admit, at numerous times during the first two acts of the film a single question dominated my thoughts: ‘Am I dumb?’ I asked myself, followed by: ‘I think I am, I think I’m really dumb.’ At which point I sat back, took my phone out and proceeded to google “Annihilation movie FAQ’s” to try and catch myself up. Rest assured if you found the movie difficult to follow you were not alone.
With that in mind, no Annihilation is not a movie that will please the masses, no it is not a perfect piece of cinema and no you are not dumb either. But to focus on that I think is to miss the sheer sensory experience of witnessing the incredible imagery that Alex Garland puts on the screen.
The way Alex uses his concept of the shimmer to distort reality, distorts the viewers mind at the same time. He elicits multiple visceral, physical responses from the audience. Whether it was the help me bear, the phosphorous grenade or the mimicry sequence, my guest host, David Molloy describing himself becoming a human pretzel is almost the perfect metaphor to describe the kind of power this type of film making can possess. Creating sequences that are emotionally intense enough to change the viewers physical state should be the goal of any budding story teller.
Not as some form of torture, but rather for the empowering feeling of catharsis that it provides, of pushing through emotional turmoil and coming out the other side.
Admittedly, while Garland does this in small sequences throughout the film, the film as a whole leaves us with far more questions than answers. Not everything is tied up in a nice, neat little bow, rather, Garland challenges us to develop our own theories and share them with one another, which is so much of what Netflix and Grill is all about.
The joy that comes from being able to continue the conversation about a film or story after watching it is worth it’s weight in gold. The hunt for closure and catharsis then is not done in isolation, but becomes a shared experience. The story helps us to better understand ourselves and each other through the conversations we have in response to it.
It doesn’t always necessarily require imagery as scary as the “help me bear” to get the job done, but from an artists point of view: If you’re able to evoke some degree of physical response in your audience and start a genuine conversation about the art you’ve put in front of them, you’ve done a good job.
What were your thoughts on Annihilation? Did you have the same mind bending experience that we did or did the lack of trajectory cause you to lose interest? Which sequence left you the most shook? And what did you think of the performances and direction? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. To hear more of ours subscribe to Netflix and Grill on iTunes and listen to the latest ep below.