Annihilation, the new film from Alex Garland, (author of The Beach, writer-director of Ex-Machina) has been dumped on Netflix by Paramount rather than being released cinemas (in all territories except America, Canada and China), reportedly on the grounds that they feared it was “too intellectual” to be a box-office hit.
It’s a bizarrely timid move from a studio that made more than $200 million from the cerebral sci-fi drama Arrival in 2016, a movie that Annihilation feels, in many ways, of a piece with. Garland has voiced his disappointment, quite reasonably pointing out that it was designed to be seen in cinemas.
As someone who cherishes (and has written plenty about) film, I should fully support this sentiment, and to a great extent I do. Annihilation is cinematic science fiction writ large, with its story of a group of female scientists (led by the superb Natalie Portman) heading into The Shimmer, a mysterious and destructive change to the earth’s atmosphere that has sprung up around a coastal area of America, brought to life via stunning visuals and an eclectic, propulsive soundtrack.
The whole package would undoubtedly be enhanced if seen on the big screen, as opposed to my ancient telly. Yet, I must also admit that the fact, as a dad of two under-fives, I’m able to watch a new film straight away, from the comfort of my sofa, is a welcome turn of events. Leaving the house for anything other than work, playground trips or fetching toddler-friendly snacks has become a rare occurrence indeed. Outings to the cinema have become no more than a decadent dream.
I hope that putting Annihilation straight on to Netflix will allow it to find a wide audience. For while it might have complex ideas at its heart, if a dummy like me can get my head round it and also really enjoy it, then I’m sure plenty of other people will too. It’s the kind of high-concept sci-fi that you shouldn’t think too hard about (because if you do, you’ll almost certainly start finding holes in the logic and structure of the thing), but instead go along for the thrilling, and occasionally very gruesome, ride.
The less you know about how the plot unfolds, the better. It starts as a genre mash-up that references the likes of Alien, Apocalypse Now and Predator, but ends up whirling off in its own head-spinning, hallucinatory direction.