I love complex, character-driven movies as long as I understand the plot. Annihilation is a multi-layered but plot-hole filled mess that leaves audiences wondering what the heck happened.
This alien movie opens with an object hurling through space and colliding with a lighthouse on an empty beach. It then jumps in time to Lena, played by Natalie Portman, teaching biology, specifically cell growth, in a fancy classroom, which sets the theme of the film in biology. This main character still deeply mourns the loss of her military husband a year after he has disappeared. Then suddenly Kane who is played by Oscar Isaac of Ex Machina fame, suddenly shows up at the house as an unemotional shadow of himself. He gets ill and both he and Portman are whisked away to a top-secret facility.
Once there, Lena learns that Kane is the only survivor from multiple expedition groups who entered the Shimmer, a visual border of alien reality that encompasses miles around the punctured lighthouse. The Shimmer is growing and yet no one knows why or what it is. They look to Kane for answers but he is now in a coma. Since she is ex-military and a biology expert, Lena offers to go with an all-women crew to investigate the Shimmer in order to find some clues on how to cure her husband. Eventually, the audience learns that the tale is being told in retrospect by Lena, the only survivor, who is being held by the same biohazard-clad scientists that snatched her husband. At this point, the movie seems to turn into a love-conquers-all theme but it later fails that premise.
Once they get inside the barrier, things get beautiful and weird. They quickly lose time, compasses are useless, everything is Earth-like but changing, and the individuals’ mental stability begins to crumble. They are attacked at several points by oddly mutated creatures, and the film now turns into a survival flick as only Lena finishes the goal of reaching the site of impact and discovering the secret of the Shimmer… sort of.
Throughout all this, the audience learns that Lena, who is driven to find to cure her husband, has repeatedly cheated on him in the past. This definitely kills the love-conquers-all vibe. At one point, one of the character says they all have self-destructive natures. Infidelity is Lena’s sin and it makes the character unlikable.
The movie focuses on cellular mutation. The DNA of plants intertwine with animals and new species rise out of the still living bodies of the people. The movie explains this as the Shimmer is a prism and everything is reflected back, including DNA. The error in that idea is that foreign DNA would not get into body cells and morph an already living animal unless it does so like a virus causing a cancer. True DNA modification of a whole body must take place before conception. Therefore, humans would not turn into plants as shown by the movie. The ending just heightens the confusion about what exactly is going on.
Annihilation tries to work with the concepts of DNA and cell growth in the same way Interstellar was all about the laws of relativity and time. Although Interstellar was a think-piece that not everyone could get, it at least had a clear, science-based plot. Arrival too was another complex movie that was quite confusing at first but finally led the viewer through the logic of language translation and alien contact to a clear ending. The confusion never cleared with Annihilation.
Other plot holes make the audience wonder questions like, why an all-woman team? Why are all these women basically throw away characters in that none of them are true experts, except maybe Lena and the psychiatrist-leader, Dr. Ventress, played coldly by Jennifer Jason Leigh. If the government has sent multiple groups in before and no one came out, why continue throwing in more people? Some scenes were a bit gory, definitely implying that the alien intrusion was not friendly, but the audience gets no indication on whether the Shimmer was intentional or purely an act of bad luck with a contaminated meteorite.
In the end, Annihilation simply was not enjoyable. Even thinking about the plot and trying to put science into did not help. We never get a chance to like the characters and therefore don’t care that much when they die. By the end, I walked away feeling like I had just wasted two hours. It didn’t crash and burn as bad as Life did, but this science think piece certainly is not worth the theater time.