Alex Garland's Annihilation is truly singular; a skewed mind-warp that blends hard sci-fi with themes of loneliness, mental instability, and self-destruction. Like the best of its genre, the human elements transcend the monstrous creature work and bold visuals. This movie cuts to the bone, literally and figuratively. The sort of experience where it takes several minutes into the credits to gather your sensibilities.
That sort of mind-melding, transcendent cinematic experience is rare, a once-every-few-years phenomenon. Films like Annihilation are beloved, studied, approximated--and divisive. When creators go bold, they risk isolating the audience. But without the giant leaps, the form would stick in amber. Love it or hate it, Annihilation evolves the medium's possibilities. From rapturous, bold-stroke filmmaking to stories of camaraderie and perseverance, here are 13 other films sharing some reflective shimmer DNA with Annihilation.
Warning: slight spoilers for Annihilation are below.
Ex Machina (2015), dir. Alex Garland
Garland made his directorial debut with this audacious AI flick, one that asks the big questions: what makes someone human, and what are the ramifications of sentient machines? It features a star-making performance by Alicia Vikander as robot Ava, with Oscar Isaac as her genius egomaniac creator and Domhnall Gleeson as a man who tests her capacity to feel attachment and attraction. Ex Machina is a little more accessible than the other films on this list, but it's not any less smart. The chilling ending and implications are bold moves, defying resolution for a more indelible final note.
The Fountain (2006), dir. Darren Aronofsky
Darren Aronofsky is the mind-fuck master. Requiem for a Dream still makes us squirm, Black Swan is hauntingly everlasting, and mother! is a nasty slap in the face. But The Fountain is harder to categorize. It's a meditation on grief, on immortality, on the cyclical, galactic power of love. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz are magnetic as fated lovers, their story spread into three interwoven timelines. It's not an easy movie, but it's a rewarding one--an experience you'll never forget.
Under the Skin (2013), dir. Jonathan Glazer
The sequences of Scarlett Johansson's man-eating alien slinking around an inky-black void are reminiscent of Annihilation's third act cave scene. Both films are extraterrestrial in nature, and their alien designs are strikingly similar. But the unnamable horror palpitating through Under the Skin is its own kind of monster. The plot is thin but the visuals are demanding, a specious dreamworld of illogical bodily betrayal.
The Stalker (1979), dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
Tarkovsky's fingerprints are all over Annihilation. In fact, the movie is something of an all-female reboot of the Soviet maestro's most hallowed film. The Stalker follows two men who are guided by a mysterious "Stalker," who leads them through an area known as the Zone in pursuit of a room said to grant the wishes of anyone who steps inside.
Solaris (1972), dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
The Stalker isn't the only Tarkovsky film that shares a visual and thematic familiarity with Annihilation. Solaris, about a space station orbiting a mysterious planet, its crew members suffering emotional crises during their pursuit of science, is similarly visual, and also handles the interiority of a team of scientists as they soar head-first into the inexplicable.
Arrival (2016), dir. Denis Villeneuve
Though their basic plot is pretty different, there's something about the mood of Arrival that is absolutely present in Annihilation. Both are dreamy, non-specific sci-fi stories with a complicated female lead using an assignment to work through personal baggage. Both stories slowly peel back the layers of their leads through flashbacks and forwards. And both are about letting go, moving on, and learning not to hate yourself.
The Tree of Life (2011), dir. Terrence Malick
It's hard to think of a movie quite as divisive as Malick's The Tree of Life. It follows no template, no regulative timeline. It's a "film," technically, but it's meant to be felt more than seen. That's a tall order for anyone, and The Tree of Life was made famous for its Cannes boos and theater walk-outs. The film is a difficult but singular experience stretching through time and space to tell what is, ultimately, the small story of a Texan family grappling with unspeakable loss. The contrast of personal vs. universal is equally present in Annihilation.
The Thing (1982), dir. John Carpenter
Carpenter's adaptation of a 1938 John W. Campbell, Jr. novella is a horror classic. Its grand motives are a little less lofty than Annihilation's, but its body and creature horror is matched. You think Annihilation's screaming bear is terrifying? The Thing's head-separation scene is still seared into our brains, decades later. Both movies are full of oddly splayed corpses and the utterly inexplicable, and both are tense rides start to finish.
Upstream Color (2013), dir. Shane Carruth
Humans affected by an unknown parasite, their behavior growing erratic. We follow it through its various stages. Cells and memories merge. A dreamlike stasis takes over. These events unfurl in both Upstream Color and Annihilation--two films about disease, mutations, and re-evaluating the human condition. Carruth is a directorial force, a creator whose work demands to be seen, felt, dissimulated.
The Ruins (2008), dir. Carter Smith
Truth be told, The Ruins was made merely to be endured. It's an exercise in the most despicable and grotesque body horror, and at times it's an unbearable bloodbath. It follows a group of friends vacationing in Mexico who are infected with insidious, bone-lacing vines that wriggle their way inside and don't let go. If the notion reminds you of a certain abdomen-opening moment midway through Annihilation, you're not alone.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), dir. Stanley Kubrick
This is probably the most obvious entry on this list. So much of the last act of Annihilation is reminiscent of the end of Kubrick's sci-fi magnum opus. The colors, the avant-garde camerawork, the music and sound design replacing the spoken word as matter is dissected and reassembled.
The Descent (2005), dir. Neil Marshall
Ladies walking straight into cave danger? Check. But don't be fooled. Neil Marshall's all-female horror-action flick shares more than just surface-level comparisons with Annihilation. Like the best genre entries, the human stories are the most interesting bits, and that's certainly the case with The Descent, which follows a team of spelunkers on what is meant to be a routine cave exploration. It all goes to hell when they realize the cave is full of blood-thirsty vampire monsters.
Interstellar (2014), dir. Christopher Nolan
Nolan's space odyssey isn't as elegant as it wants to be; the dialogue is clunky, the themes a little ham-fisted, and the characters only vaguely fleshed out. But its ambition carries you through. The space sequences are awe-inspiring, and its take on extraterrestrial life--that it is, in some stretch of understanding, refracted humanity--is very similar to Annihilation's cave creature. The scientists on this film have larger aspirations (to save humankind) but share pathologies with the Annihilation crew.
What other films would you recommend watching after Annihilation? Let us know in the comments.
Images: Paramount, A24, Warner Bros. Pictures, Mosfilm, Fox Searchlight, Universal, VHX, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Pathé, Legendary Pictures
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