Actress Natalie Hershlag was born on June 9th, 1981 in Jerusalem, Israel. However, you may know her better by the name Natalie Portman. Her family moved to the United States when she was only three years old. They started off in Washington, D.C., relocated to Connecticut, and then finally settled in Jericho, New York. She loved performing at a young age and in 1993 she auditioned and got the role of Mathilda in her first film, Léon: The Professional. Since then her notoriety began to rise especially when she played Queen Amidala in the three Star Wars prequels. She tends to set her sights on both big and smaller projects and always gives an astounding performance no matter the role. Her latest film entitled Annihilation has her teaming up with director Alex Garland on his follow-up to 2014’s Ex Machina.
Based on the book of the same name, Annihilation centers around Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist and ex-military professional who lost her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) around a year prior. One day while at home he mysteriously appears, doesn’t remember anything, and begins coughing up blood. On their way to the hospital, a group of military Special Forces shows up and knocks out Lena. She awakens at a secret military base and witnesses a slowly growing rainbow-colored transparent field encompassing a very large area in front of her. She’s informed that nothing that has gone into the field has come out with the exception of her husband. With Kane currently incapacitated, she decides to enter it in order to find out what mysteries lie inside.
As a big fan of Ex Machina, I was truly excited to see what Alex Garland’s next film would be. His excellent representation of artificial intelligence and how our society deals with such entities had me enraptured from beginning to end. So when I found out that Annihilation focuses on an alien presence, I knew that I was in for a treat. While unfortunately not living up to the high standards of his previous work, Annihilation is still is able to dive deep into the fear of the unknown with graceful yet poignant social commentary. His elegant pacing left me guessing exactly what was taking place during every scene in a way that was engaging yet never overwhelming. This is a film that will definitely mess with your mind and has you second guessing every character’s actions at every turn.
On a different note, Natalie Portman’s performance is insanely gripping throughout the film. Lena is a very complex and well-defined character and nearly every choice Portman makes leads to success. She’s intelligent yet tough, emotional yet supportive; she takes the character and makes it her own in every single scene. Oscar Isaac goes the same route yet in a much more subdued way. His quiet presence throughout the film is the perfect yin to Portman’s yang and adds even more emotional weight to their relationship.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the overall story, I felt that the ending was a bit flat in comparison to the rest of the film. It’s not egregiously bad or uninteresting but it left me with significantly more questions than I wanted. In a way, it almost feels like it doesn’t belong to everything else that takes place before it. Another slight criticism is the use of CGI. It’s simply not great. There are many elements throughout the film that blend live-action with CGI effects and the result is quite jarring. At points, it completely took me out of the film and somewhat irritated my overall enjoyment.
Even with my negative points being stated, I still really enjoyed the film. Annihilation may be slightly problematic but its highs significantly outweigh its lows.
Synopsis: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.
Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Stars: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Runtime: 1 Hour, 55 Minutes