Remember when alien movies were just about little green men or robot humanoids coming to conquer Earth? Annihilation is another in a long line of modern sci-fi films to be more interested in the philosophy than the practicality of extra-terrestrials. But unlike Under the Skin or Europa Report, its ponderous nature never quite reaches its point. It's definitely a metaphor for something, but what? Aging? Marriage? Dementia? Time? Death? Perhaps a second-viewing would clear some of this up, but then I'd have to slog through this movie again.
An unknown object has crashed onto earth, causing a slowly growing "shimmer" wall that seems to make anyone who enters it disappear. In so many ways, it's just a lesser version of classic films. Like Tarkovsky's Stalker, it's comfortable with saying "I don't know", but more out of confusion than intrigue. Like Villeneuve's Arrival, it uses alien beings to talk about humanity, but with little emotional impact. Like Carpenters' The Thing, its unexpectedly and brutally gory, though not as technically impressive.
However, it's a hard movie to write-off or be complacent about, given its strangeness and ambition. The bursts of horror are fun and unique, with cool creatures and a steady directing hand. Most of all, it's visually striking cinematography and often quite beautiful production design are undeniable. Most of its issues seem to stem from the writing, which isn't just thematically unfocused, but also just full of cliched dialogue.
With Ex Machina, Alex Garland made a strong impression with that debut. And even with all of Annihilation's script problems, his camera's eye and brainy tendencies keep him as a filmmaker worth watching.