FEBRUARY 23, 2018 -- Alex Garland's second directorial effort (his first was the outstanding "Ex Machina") is an adaptation of the Jeff VanderMeer novel of the same name. Like most of Garland's films, he features strong female characters - this time led by Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh.


Once again he cast Oscar Isaac as the male foil, as it were. He plays Kane a career soldier sent on a mission of unknown danger who disappears for a year, then returns from out of the blue to his doting wife Lena (Portman). After she notices he has no personality (and after he suffers a seizure), the two are taken into custody by the military after which she finally finds out what his secret mission was.


The mission is to a lighthouse in a Florida state park that was struck by a meteor. That event has caused the area to change. The area is surrounded by a cheesy looking glow that has been dubbed "The Shimmer". Several exploratory teams have gone into "The Shimmer", but none have come out, except for Kane. Because "The Shimmer" is growing at a pretty decent rate, the military wants to know what's in there, but Kane is now of no use to them. Time to send in another team of which Lena wants to join. She is a biologist, so it makes a lot of sense to send her.

The team is an all-female affair with Jennifer Jason Leigh's Dr Ventress character leading the team. The rest include Gina Rodriguez as Anya, Tuva Novotony as Cass, and Tessa Thompson as Josie. All are scientists of some sort and all have some darkness about them - why else would they go on basically a suicide mission; as even Lena points out.


Off they go into "The Shimmer" with guns in hand (note, only Lena had any previous military training) and not one bio-hazard suit among them. Once inside, they lose all track of time while they discover all flora and fauna has genetically morphed into something else. Lena observes that the cells are acting very much like cancer cells. However, one by one each of the girls is affected by "The Shimmer" (no spoilers) and the mission seems doomed.


The story has a couple of pure horrific moments that will have audiences groaning and wincing. There is a certain satisfaction in attacks from the unknown, especially when you don't know why. The story combines the concept of a space virus with a warp in the time space continuum. Garland borrows from "Prophecy" (1979) with a little bit of "Poltergeist" (1982) tossed in.


However, there are some fundamental errors that slap you in the face. The most glaring error... in every film about trips into the unknown, the person or team is always wearing a biohazard suit; even if it is useless. Yet the military sends these scientists into "The Shimmer with nothing more than hiking boots and skivvies...and no one questions it. Remember "Arrival", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Andromeda Starin"... bio-hazard suits! There are a couple of other inconsistencies that I won't mention because they are spoilers.


Jennifer Jason Leigh is perfect as the mysterious lead doctor and Portman gives a good effort similar to Amy Adams "Arrival" role. The rest of the acting is merely serviceable but with adequate screams.


"Annihilation" is a better than average sci-fi/horror flick but with a couple of glaring flaws. Garland does deliver a film that is thought provoking, despite the flaws, with a amusing twist.   -- GRADE C+  --   GEOFF BURTON