Follow TV Tropes


Film / Annihilation (2018)

Go To

"I don't know what it wants, or if it wants, but it will grow until it encompasses everything. Our bodies and our minds will be fragmented into their smallest parts, until not one part remains... Annihilation."

Annihilation is a 2018 sci-fi horror mystery film written and directed by Alex Garland. It is loosely based on Annihilation, the first book of The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, and stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, Tuva Novotny, Sonoya Mizuno, and David Gyasi.

One day, a mysterious meteorite lands by a lighthouse somewhere in the southern area of the USA. Shortly thereafter, ground zero is surrounded by a strange iridescent shimmer, which is apparently some form of radiation emitted by the meteorite. Repeated attempts by the US government to examine the phenomenon all end in failure, as everyone sent in close — be it people or machines — immediately have their communication equipment go haywire once they cross the border of the affected area, and then they are never seen again. What is more worrying is that "The Shimmer" — now given the official codename "Area X" — is slowly but surely expanding outwards. And while the government can quarantine the area, they have no way of stopping the spread.

A soldier by the name of Kane (Isaac) emerges from Area X as the Sole Survivor of his expedition after having been missing in action for twelve months. However, he is clearly disturbed and unable to offer any insight, as he speaks in riddles and soon thereafter collapses into a coma from massive internal bleeding. Lena (Portman), a biologist and Kane's wife, decides to put her name forward on another expedition into the zone in an attempt to figure out what happened to her husband. What she and her team — consisting of psychologist Ventress (Leigh), physicist Josie Radek (Thompson), paramedic Anya (Rodriguez), and geologist Cassie Shepherd (Novotny) — finds is not what any of them expect.

The film was released on February 23, 2018 in theaters, with Paramount handling distribution in the United States and China, while Netflix handled international distribution, streaming the film 17 days after it was released in theaters.

The trailer can be seen here.

Not to be confused with Marvel Comics's Annihilation, or the 2004 War of the Spider Queen novel Annihilation.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Camp Ruins: It's made clearer here than in the book that the Lighthouse is an abandoned camp for the previous expedition, where Lena finds the videotapes from her husband and which is also stained in blood.
  • Action Girl: Lena is a former soldier much like Kane and she is the leader of the expedition sent to investigate the Shimmer.
  • Adam and Eve Plot: One interpretation of the ending, in which a Lena amalgamated from her all-female squad and a Kane amalgamated from his all-male squad have both been altered by the Shimmer, forming a new species. Bonus points for the Shimmer being a psychedelic Garden of Eden.
  • Adaptational Skill: The biologist is given a military background that she did not have in the books, so she now knows her way around weapons.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The film greatly condenses the plot of the novel while still maintaining its tone and atmosphere. Garland described his writing process as "adapting a memory of the book", and deliberately took the story in his own direction with the original author's permission.
    • The tower and Crawler are omitted, with their functions being merged with the lighthouse. The writing on the walls of the tower as well as the pile of journals from past expeditions are also omitted, with their functions being fulfilled by the video messages the team finds.
    • Almost all of the drama involving the Southern Reach itself is excluded, giving the impression of a much more stable and competent organization than the one in the books. Hypnosis is mentioned, but it's not as major a plot point as in the novels, and the meaning of the final Title Drop is changed as well.
    • The journey through Area X itself is more of a straightforward River of Insanity plot, whereas the novel featured a more gradual deterioration of the mission as the team members either disappeared or turned on each other. Deaths of team members are more sudden and violent, and the team comes face-to-face with more obviously bizarre and threatening monsters such as the bear, which makes for a faster-paced story overall.
  • Adapted Out: The tower, the Crawler, and the moaning creature in the swamp are all cut, with their functions being fulfilled by the lighthouse, the Humanoid, and the mutated animals respectively.
  • Adaptational Badass: The expedition is a lot more powerful than their novel counterparts. The novel had four members for the expedition while there are five for the movie's party. In the book, the team carried pistols and only the Surveyor had an assault rifle (and it was something slapped together from 30-year-old parts) while each member in the movie was carrying an assault rifle. Finally, the team was able to bring high-tech electronics over (and although in the end they're all useless, a vital clue about the Shimmer is provided from thinking what makes them useless), whereas in the book electronics were strictly forbidden as Area X would attack technology that was too high-tech.
  • Adaptational Context Change: In the novel, "Annihilation" was a Trigger Phrase to be used by the Expedition's leader to make other members of the Expedition kill themselves. In the movie, it refers to the Shimmer's expansion and inevitable consumption of Earth.
  • Adaptational Dumbass: A really bizarre example; in the books Area X was a Genius Loci that was implied to be acting according to its own inscrutable will, while the film makes it more analogous to a cancer cell, mindlessly changing and destroying everything with no real intent or plan.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • In the books, the Southern Reach is a shadowy, duplicitous and borderline malevolent organization populated by people slowly going mad and using extremely unethical practices on its volunteers. In the film, it is simply a secret government agency of people honestly trying to save the world and keeping nothing back from their volunteers.
    • In the book, the psychologist has ulterior motives as a member of the Southern Reach. In the movie, Ventress is simply a scientist who wants to see what is at the lighthouse before she dies of cancer.
  • Adaptational Job Change:
    • Downplayed with Lena. While she's still a biologist like in the books, her specialization has been changed from ecology to cell biology (she's seen teaching students about cancer in the opening; fitting, as the cancer motif recurs throughout the filmnote ), and she now has a military background.
    • Of the other members of the expedition, only the psychologist role is kept from the books. While the book team had a linguistnote , an anthropologist, and a surveyor, the other three in the film are a medic, a physicist, and a geomorphologist.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Zig-zagged with Lena. Her book counterpart is a brawny, assertive and unsentimental woman. The film version of Lena is more sensitive, emotional and waifish, though she is also given a military background and is shown to be the best shot out of the crew (see Surprisingly Realistic Outcome for more details).
  • Adaptation Amalgamation: Although mainly inspired by the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, the plot point of Ventress wanting to see what's in the Shimmer/Area X before she dies of cancer comes from Acceptance, the third book.
  • Amazon Brigade: The expedition team is all women. In the book, it is mentioned this was done deliberately as another variable to test after the first team was all men.
  • Ambiguous Clone Ending: It is heavily implied that the Kane who returned is a doppelganger of the original Kane. The same could possibly be said for the Lena that returned. Although the fact that Kane didn't die when the rest of the Shimmer disintegrated makes it even more confusing...
  • Ambiguous Ending: Crosses over with Bittersweet Ending. The Shimmer has vanished and Lena survives (maybe), but Lena's team members are likely dead, Kane might actually be another Humanoid like the one that "fought" with Lena, and it's implied that Lena may have acquired some of her own oddities in the Shimmer, as their irises both swirl right before the end credits...
  • Ambiguous Situation: While Anya and Cass are clearly seen dead, Josie simply calmly observes her forearms as plants sprout from them, and she vanishes as they begin growing on her, and Dr. Ventress is turned into some kind of fractal and may or may not have been converted into the Humanoid.
  • Anachronic Order: The movie opens In Medias Res with Lena being interrogated over what happened, the narrative then jumps to the beginning of the primary story of how Kane returned and why Lena got involved with the expedition to the Shimmer. At different points, the story jumps back to the interrogation, while also showing flash-back scenes of the times before Kane left and of Lena dealing with his disappearance. It has the effect of not knowing exactly when a certain scene takes place, and needs a Once More, with Clarity, specifically Lena's affair with Daniel.
  • And I Must Scream
    • Horrifyingly, despite mauling her to death, the fact that the bear has absorbed enough of Shepherd's DNA to mimic her dying screams seems to imply that part of her consciousness might still be alive inside it. A less disturbing and more pragmatic explanation may be that by ripping out its victim's throat (something seen with Shepherd's body) the bear can assimilate the vocal cords of its victims and mimics the distress call they made just before death to lure in more prey.
    • Whatever the hell happened to the poor man at the abandoned U.S. Army base...
  • Apocalyptic Log: Two videos left behind by a previous expedition. The first is left in the mess hall of the abandoned military base, on an SD card in an envelope addressed "To Those Who Will Follow"; it's a video showing one of the expedition members being (apparently willingly) vivisected by the others to reveal the physical changes overtaking him. The other is found in a camcorder inside the lighthouse, and consists of Kane's final message to the outside world and his suicide by phosphorus grenade.
  • Artistic License – Botany: Josie theorizes the people-shaped plants formed because their hox genes, genes that determine where parts of the body grow, were replaced with those of humans. However, unlike animals, plants have no hox genes and it's doubtful they would develop a human shape even if they did receive any.
  • Asshole Victim: Anya, after discovering the truth about Lena's true relationship with her husband, the lone survivor of the Shimmer, ties her and the other two survivors up and threatens to cut them open with a knife. She is promptly mauled to death by the mutated bear, which rips her lower jaw off.
  • The Atoner: Implied. Ventress blames herself for the deaths of all the men she's sent into the Shimmer, and Lena blames herself for Kane going MIA, thinking he knowingly volunteered for a suicide mission because he found out about her affair.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: In-Universe.
    • When the team reaches the previous team's FOB, Anya is positively delighted to find a M240B (a General Purpose Machine Gun) left behind by the soldiers. It takes her just a few seconds of holding it to realize the beast is way too heavy and unwieldy to replace her much more manageable assault rifle.
    • A M82 anti-material rifle is briefly seen in the watch tower, and is ignored by the team, presumably also for its weight.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: Subverted with Doppelganger at the end. A majority of its body is mostly featureless but it does seem to have what looks like female genitalia.
  • Battle Couple: Lena and Kane formed one during their service in the U.S. military.
  • Bears Are Bad News: A mutated bear kills Cass at the abandoned base and later kills Anya at the house before being shot dead. For bonus points, it can also imitate a person's voice to lure out its prey.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: As one character puts it:
    "I wanted to know what was inside the Lighthouse. That moment has passed."
  • Behind the Black: Lena doesn't notice the camera tripod Kane left behind in the Lighthouse until the camera pans to show it, despite it being completely un-hidden in the middle of a bare white room.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed:
    • After the horrific deaths of Cass and Anya, as well as not being motivated to continue as Lena and Ventress are, Josie gives in to the Shimmer, most likely becoming one of the people-shaped plants.
    • An Ambiguous Situation example: Kane (who may or may not be the original) immolates himself with a phosphorus grenade after making it to the lighthouse and the unexplained deaths of his entire squad.
  • The Blank: One character has a totally blank face — The Humanoid which fights with Lena during the ending, at least before it starts turning into her. But then changes back to its original form when the real Lena sets off a phosphorus grenade it was holding. "Kane" may have been this at one point.
  • Blood from the Mouth: After Kane drinks from a glass, blood is left on the rim and floating in the water.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Shimmer. It doesn't seem to want anything, malicious or benevolent. It just endlessly splits, recombines and reflects the world around it. In fact, it's to the point that the Shimmer kills itself when Lena reaches the center of the phenomenon and it starts reflecting the self-destructive nature of humans. Lena even speculates that the humanoid creature she "fights" at the end may not even have known she was there.
  • Body Horror: Prevalent throughout the film.
    • In a found footage tape, a soldier from the previous expedition has his belly cut open to reveal that his intestines have transformed into eels, and his mutated corpse is later found by the other team.
    • Josie's body slowly becomes covered in plants before she disappears.
    • Dr. Ventress' body is transformed into a fractal (and before that, before she notices Lena has entered the room, though partially shadowed, her face is clearly warped, with her eyes apparently gone).
    • Everyone on the team, and the teams before them, gets modified on the genetic level; the flesh of those who live long enough literally moves and swirls about.
    • The bear has a grotesquely distended skull with no skin on it, and it also appears to have a human skull growing out of the side of its head.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The mutated bear is shot multiple times in the head with an assault rifle... and still takes a few seconds to die after that.
  • Broken Bird: Cassie says all of them are this. Ventress has to live with all the teams she sent to their deaths, Josie cuts herself, Anya is an addict, and Cassie never got over the death of her daughter. Implicitly, it's because they're a bit mentally unhinged that the team members volunteer for the expedition in the first place.
    Cassie: We're all damaged goods here.
  • Butch Lesbian: Anya is a very muscular woman with short hair who tries to ask Lena out near the beginning of the film. Aside from that, her sexuality doesn't figure very much into her characterization though.
  • Came Back Wrong: Kane returns from Area X alive and apparently unharmed, but he's an Empty Shell who barely remembers his former life and is slowly dying from organ failure. As it happens, the real Kane immolated himself with a phosphorous grenade in the lighthouse, and the Kane who leaves Area X is a doppelganger it created. Or it might be the other way around.
  • Canon Foreigner:
    • The mutant animals, such as the bear, the deer, and the alligator, and the human-shaped trees are original to the film.
    • Except for Ventress, all the other members of the team and Lena's boss are also original. The unnamed interviewer is also likely original, though he may in fact be Control, the protagonist of the second book. In very broad terms Anya echoes the Surveyor and Sheppard the Linguist.
    • The Humanoid doesn't exist in the books, but it fulfills roughly the same function as the Crawler.
  • Casanova Wannabe: When the team first meets Lena, Shepherd makes fun of Anya for apparently hitting on every woman in the base — Lena included. Though it's implied this has a lot to do with the suicide mission they are about to go on.
  • Composite Character: Lena is a composite of mostly the Biologist and also the Surveyor (in the novel, it was the Surveyor who was an ex-soldier and was the one tasked to protect the group, not the Biologist).
  • Cosmic Horror Story: A strange and unknowable alien presence has turned a harmless coastline town into a place where all signals (be it radio signals or DNA) are reflected back into itself again and again, mutating all life within again and again. And the site is only growing bigger, the worse case scenario being the mutation of all life on the planet into a chaotic bramble beyond human comprehension.
  • Dangerously Garish Environment: Area X is full of brightly-colored plants that have The Shimmer (which...shimmers, and which can infest humans if they encounter them, driving them to madness and/or death, including turning them into some of the brightly-colored plants.)
  • Death by Adaptation: In the movie, no previous expedition returned alive. However in the book, Area X has been in existence much earlier and there have been successful expeditions into the outer regions of the zone which helped establish the rules for later expeditions.
  • Dissonant Serenity:
    • Josie, Ventress, and the original(?) Kane are all creepily calm during their deaths.
    • The soldier on Kane's team in the first Apocalyptic Log remains amazingly calm while Kane is (apparently with his consent) vivisecting the man to reveal that his organs are moving on their own. The complete lack of screaming or crying from the poor guy arguably makes it all the worse.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: When Lena runs for the door of the lighthouse, the way that the humanoid presses itself against her body from behind is very reminiscent of sexual assault.
  • Doppelgänger: The climax heavily implies that Kane was replaced by a clone of himself created by the Shimmer. It definitely tries to do the same to Lena, but we can't say for certain that it failed.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: Lena pulls the slide of her carbine and departs alone only to find Shepherd's dead body.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • After seeing the gruesome way in which Anya and Cass have died, as well as the mutated bear mimicking Cass's voice, Josie decides to avoid that fate, allowing the Shimmer to overtake her completely and turn her into one of the tree people.
    • Kane, having lost all sense of who he really is to the Shimmer's mutation, decides to immolate himself with a phosphorus grenade. It's not clear if the Kane who killed himself is the real one or a clone.
    • The humanoid avatar of the Shimmer, though lacking in independent will, copies a suicidal urge given to it by Lena through another phosphorus grenade. The fire persists far past the phosphorus' real burn time and is copied through the whole of the Shimmer, destroying it.
  • Drone of Dread: The film's score is a mixture of sinister electronic drones and melancholic guitar music.
  • Dwindling Party: One by one, the party is lost, which is lampshaded. Cass and Anya are killed by the bear, Josie willingly surrenders herself to The Shimmer, Ventress disintegrates, and at least one copy of Lena dies. It's ambiguous whether the one that returns from The Shimmer is the one we've been following for most of the movie.
  • The Dying Walk: After having noticed human shaped vegetation within the Shimmer earlier and having theorized that they are in fact people who've been transformed into vegetation, Josie tells Lena about how the Shimmer is inside all of them and she doesn't want to fight it. She notices vines and vegetation starting to grow out of her body and simply walks away from Lena. Lena tries to catch up to Josie and calls out to her, but Josie ignores her calls and keeps walking away. Lena then comes to a clearing and Josie is nowhere to be seen, instead there's only a group of the human shaped bushes standing in a field, with no way to even tell which one was Josie.
  • Eldritch Abomination
    • Everything about The Shimmer violates all human understanding of the workings of the world as we know it, its motivations — if it even has any — are completely incomprehensible to humans, and madness has been known to occur to those who spend too long in its domain.
    • The horrific human remains messed up together at the abandoned U.S. Army base could make even The Human Centipede blush!
  • Eldritch Location: Area X, a mutated landscape spanning an entire coastline that is both beautiful and terrifying.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: In the very last shot of the movie, Lena's eyes flicker with light, suggesting this may not be the original Lena who returned.
  • Eyeless Face:
    • When Lena finds her in the basement of the Lighthouse, Ventress's mutations appear to have smoothed over her eyes.
    • The bear appears to be blind, as its Skull for a Head has only one left eye. And although it's very hard to see in the dark lighting, it appears to be a human eye, too.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • Josie is completely content with her fate to become one with the Shimmer's environment.
      "Ventress wants to face it. You want to fight it. But I don't think I want either of those things."
    • The real(?) Kane is eerily calm as he records his last video log and sets himself on fire with a phosphorus grenade.
  • Facial Horror: The bear, which seemingly has an exposed skull as part of its face, as well as Anya after it tears her jaw off.
  • Fanservice: Lena cheats on her husband and has sex with Dan, the most of which we see being a single shot of her from the back.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Being mauled to death by the bear is bad enough for poor Shepherd, but the fact that all of its vocalizations sound like her dying screams might imply that some of her consciousness is still inside the damned thing.
  • Fooled by the Sound: After cracking and taking Lena, Josie, and Ventress hostage, Anya is stopped from starting on them with a knife when she hears Shepherd screaming for help outside. It's the mutated bear that killed Shepherd, now somehow mimicking her voice.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We know from the beginning of the film that Lena's the only one who's going to make it out of Area X. The movie does throw a wrench into that with the reveal of the humanoid at the lighthouse, causing you to wonder for a bit if it is really Lena being interrogated. But then Lena destroys the humanoid, putting that idea to rest. Maybe.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • This line from Ventress:
    Ventress: If I don't reach the lighthouse soon... The person that started this journey won't be the one that ends it. I want to be the one that ends it.
    • At the beginning of the movie when Dan approaches Lena about attending the barbeque at his house, he steps very close to her and rubs her arm at one point in their conversation. Lena doesn't quite move to stop him either... We later find out that Lena had an affair with Dan during her (and his) marriage, causing Kane to volunteer to enter The Shimmer as a form of suicide once he finds out.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • The remains of the man Kane's team vivisects have the same forearm tattoo as appears on Lena and Anya.
    • At one point we get a quick, out-of-context shot of an intense bright light that, in hindsight, is revealed to be the glowing, shifting, fractal...thing that Ventress becomes.
  • Friendless Background: Ventress apparently has no family or notable social life outside of the Southern Reach.
  • Fusion Dance: Part of the Shimmer's effects include refracting all nature and DNA like a prism, until the life forms within it are merging with each other in ways that are pretty (like the deer with cherry-blossom antlers that Lena sees, or the multiple different kinds of flowers all growing from the same root) and not so pretty (like the bear with a human skull growing out of its head and who screams in Shepherd's voice after it kills her).
  • Gainax Ending: It gets pretty trippy once Lena reaches the lighthouse.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The Shimmer does this to any of the teams that enter it. Notable examples include the video recording of Kane and his fellow soldiers, Anya tying up the rest of the team after feeling betrayed by Lena and Ventress goes from being a nearly emotionless commander at the beginning to a Dr. Weir-esque raving lunatic at the end with the Lighthouse.
  • Gorn: Downplayed. There's not much violence in the movie overall, but what violence is there is exceedingly brutal. The worst instances are the videotape of Kane vivisecting one of his team members to show that his intestines are moving, and Anya getting her jaw torn off by the bear.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: This is implied to what has happened to Lena at the end, evident by her glowing eyes.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Gay?: Anya is briefly revealed to be a lesbian who hopes Lena might be one too during her first scene, but that fact is irrelevant to the rest of the movie and never comes up again.
  • Healing Factor: Starting from the moment the Shimmer is destroyed, Kane goes from multiple organ failure and total unresponsiveness to being healthy, conscious, and lucid in a matter of hours.
  • Hell Is That Noise:
    • The bear's roars, which are mixed with Shepherd's dying screams of agony...
    • The movie's score goes berserk when Lena encounters the Humanoid.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: During the bear encounter, Anya deliberately fires her rifle over the head of her teammates to attract the bear's attention and prevent herself from hitting her teammates, knowing that the bear would probably kill her in the process.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Anya tying her teammates to chairs. This ensures that none of them can help her in time when the bear comes back, and by the time Josie frees herself and gets her assault rifle... it's far too late for Anya.
  • Hostile Terraforming: What Area X appears to be doing to the Earth. In the film, it's repeatedly compared to a cancer.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with Lena in the compound and recounting the events, and what happened to the rest of the group.
  • Human Architecture Horror: When exploring the FOB after viewing the vivisection video, the protagonists discover the eventual fate of the man disemboweled by Kane: his corpse has been fused with fungal-like growth on the wall (the lower half of his body horizontally lying near the ground, while his torso and his skull (separated) are glued to higher areas of the wall.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The main theme of the film is about the propensity of humans to act in self-destructive ways and our tendencies to cause irreparable harm to our environment. The endlessly possible scenarios of an extraterrestrial invasion are unsettling, but the undiscovered depths of our own minds can be even scarier. While the extraterrestrial Shimmer is portrayed as utterly amoral, all the humans in the film are shown to have masochistic and malicious tendencies, tendencies that lead to nearly everyone's deaths and cause even the Shimmer to destroy itself as it learns to mimic them.
  • Hybrid Monster: The alligator Lena shot dead has shark-like rows of teeth, and the bear has not only part of a human skull growing out of its head but also screams in Shepherd's voice.
  • Idiot Ball: Upon arriving at the FOB that was abandoned by Kane's team, Lena's team takes the wise choice of sleeping up in the abandoned guard tower, high above the ground where no threats can get to them and they have an excellent vantage point of the entire base — but instead of doing the sensible thing of having someone stand on the balcony outside the tower cabin, the person who's put on guard duty takes a shift on the ground for no apparent reason, right next to the perimeter fence where visibility is either non-existent or so close that by the time any threats are spotted, it's too late, with only a small book light and a single pair of night vision binoculars to see. Ironically, it's neither Lena nor Ventress who gets taken and killed by the bear, but Shepherd, when she goes down to check on the other two.
  • I Reject Your Reality: On seeing the video of a soldier whose internal organs have come alive, Anya insists that it's just a trick of the light, yet refuses to look at the video again.
  • Important Haircut: In flashbacks, Kane has Oscar Isaac's naturally curly hair, but when he shows up at Lena's house in the beginning his hair is slicked back and down. This is one of the first hints that he may not be the same person who went in.
  • Immune to Bullets: Lena immediately empties her assault rifle into the Humanoid at the moment of its birth, but the bullets just bounce off to become part of the creature's structure.
  • Inscrutable Aliens: The Shimmer is alien in every respect. There's no apparent motive to its behavior, no way to communicate with it, and it doesn't even possess a form in the way humans understand. Lena concludes at the end it may never have even been aware of her or anyone else.
  • It Can Think: The mutated bear is smart enough to mimic Shepherd's screams to lure Anya away from the others, which implies that it absorbed not only her voice but part of her consciousness as well.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Adult staff variation. Lena is introduced as a professor at Johns Hopkins, and Josie is fresh off a postdoctoral position at Cambridge. Both are used to characterize them as intelligent.
  • Jawbreaker: One character has their jaw swiped off by the mutated bear that attacks the party.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Anya breaks down, becomes paranoid and ties up and holds the remaining party members bound and gagged at gunpoint. Considering that she discovered that Lena and Ventress had been lying about Kane all along, one cannot easily blame her.
  • Jump Scare: Only two: Josie getting yanked back into the flooded cabin by the alligator, and Shepherd getting suddenly snatched by the bear.
  • Kill and Replace: A possible interpretation of the ending is that it's not our version of Kane that returned... and possibly not our version of Lena either.
  • Kill It with Fire: How Lena dealt with the Humanoid and — in turn — the lighthouse. It was also the method that Lena's husband (or perhaps Kane's clone) used to off himself.
  • Kill the Cutie: Sweet, motherly Cassie Shepherd is the friendliest of the party, and gets along with Lena the best out of anyone. Naturally, she's the one who gets not only mauled, but absorbed by the bear.
  • The Lad-ette: Anya — the muscular, tattooed Butch Lesbian and Tank-Top Tomboy with the foulest mouth out of the party.
  • LEGO Genetics: The Shimmer plays fast and loose with everything we and the characters know about genetics by hybridizing pretty much anything with anything else, including combinations believed impossible (like splicing plants and animals together). Even the Hox genes mentioned in the page description make a brief appearance in an effort to try to explain what's going on. Though, it is also treated as largely unhealthy. While many of the creatures seen are fantastic and seem to be healthy, it seems very likely that the soldier whose innards turned into eels would have died even if they hadn't cut him open and Josie is seemingly "killed" when she turns into one of the humanoid trees. Ventress even notes that eventually life would become an impossibility with everything constantly being reflected on everything endlessly. Everything would eventually become nothing and life would experience annihilation.
  • Lens Flare: There are several examples of the horizontal line version.
  • Lighthouse Point: The apparent origin of Area X is in a lighthouse on the coast. This may or may not be the true reason for the Shimmer's spread, having copied the lighthouse in form and function and began broadcasting itself like a lighthouse broadcasts a beam of light.
  • Light Is Not Good: Most of the time in the Shimmer has unnaturally vivid colors and rainbow-esque sunlight, which would make it incredibly gorgeous under other circumstances.
  • Luring in Prey: A bear mutated by the Shimmer's effects gains the ability to mimic the voices of those that it's eaten. After eating Cass, it imitates her voice, luring Anya into running for her teammate and then getting attacked.
  • Made of Iron: The Humanoid in its original form can take quite a beating. Shrugging off multiple assault rifle rounds and a phosphorus grenade before eventually self-destructing, apparently due to having absorbed Lena's self-destructive mindset.
  • Magic Genetics: The Shimmer seemingly mutates DNA of organisms within it to produce hybrids that should be impossible.
  • Marked Change: During the frame narrative, Lena is seen with a tattoo on her arm that isn't present before she went into the Shimmer. The tattoo was Anya's at one point, and seems to have migrated over onto Lena's forearm during her time within Area X. Not only that, but the same tattoo is also visible on the soldier that Kane vivisects, both in the video and in his remains found in the swimming pool.
  • Mutants: Lifeforms inside the zone are "stuck in a continuous mutation". Everyone who enters the Shimmer is affected in this way, as the area refracts light waves, radio waves, and even biological matter like a prism.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Inverted. Out of the all-female team, only Lena makes it out of the shimmer, and it's unclear whether the Lena that returns is actually the same one that went in. At least one copy of Kane kills himself in the Lighthouse, but it's not 100% certain that it was the original.
  • Mind Screw: Mind-bending visuals, the surreal nature of Area X, difficult themes, and a subtly chilling atmosphere makes for a film that has confounded several viewers.
    • The Shimmer is itself a Mind Screw in-universe: simply being inside it may have driven all prior exploration teams insane — either through some direct energy waves acting on their brains, indirectly through biological mutations it causes in their brains, or just psychologically driving them insane from the stress of being in it. Moreover, while not quite Through the Eyes of Madness, the narrative we see is what Lena is recounting in flashback as best she can remember it.
    • The narrative plays around with the framing device of film editing, as simply being in the Shimmer results in having incidents of Lost Time. Immediately after the scene of the team first crossing the perimeter into the Shimmer, the scene cuts to them waking up at their set-up campsite — but then the team members explain to each other that crossing the perimeter is literally the last thing they remember, as if they experienced a jump cut in real life. It's not just that their tents are already set up: a hand count of their rations reveals that they've gone through about four days worth of cooked meals but don't remember any of it. Other jump cuts between sections of the movie are tacitly implied to just be gaps in Lena's memory about what happened.
    • Time doesn't move at the same rate inside the Shimmer — possibly not even at a consistent rate within it. By Lena's count, including the days they lost at the beginning, it should have taken them eight days to reach the lighthouse, but she admits that with the gaps in her memories they could have been there a couple of weeks. It was four months between when she went in and when the Shimmer collapsed and she came out.
    • The scientist interrogating Lena in quarantine after she returns suggests that she might have hallucinated some of the more bizarre mutations and events inside the Shimmer, due to some energy or psychic influence it has on human brains. Lena admits she considered that too, but points out that all five team members saw the same exact things and interacted with them, e.g. the mutated crocodile. As the mind-screw events get more drastic the closer they get to the center of the Shimmer, however, it's never 100% certain that it is physically real (particularly the scenes when Lena is alone).
    • Ventress directly points out as they get close to the center of the Shimmer that their bodies and minds are "disintegrating" — possibly just due to the physical changes it's influencing on their brains — and compares their current mental state to the early stages of dementia.
  • Missing Time: After entering the Shimmer, the expedition wakes up with no memory of what happened after they went in. They check their supplies and find several days worth of food missing, indicating that they've lost that much time.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The Shimmer causes LEGO Genetics among every living thing within its range. This results in not only bizarre animal hybrids, but mutations blending with the local fauna. The most obvious comes from examining an alligator where it's revealed that it had shark teeth, which Lena states that such a hybrid is impossible. In another sequence they find a series of trees that grew into the shape of humans, due to picking up human structural DNA.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: The mutated alligator has rows upon rows upon rows of teeth.
  • Motif:
    • Refraction is a recurring visual element throughout the movie. Mostly it's color refraction, as seen inside the Shimmer. There is a constant rainbow Color Motif throughout the scientists' time inside the Shimmer, but even before that, near the beginning of the movie, when Kane comes home, there is a shot where we see Lena and Kane holding hands behind a glass of water, and the water refracts their hands.
    • Cancer is another one. The film starts with Lena teaching her biology students about the nature of cancer cells, she's later shown reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (whose cervical cancer cells Lena was implied to be showing in her lecture), Cass's daughter died of cancer which motivated her to volunteer for the mission, and Ventress is Secretly Dying of cancer for the whole movie. This ties in with Area X's status as less of an intelligent Alien Invasion and more of a planetary tumor, continuously growing and changing while destroying everything around it, all without any apparent intelligence behind it.
    • Also, reflection. The pair of deer with floral antlers move as one body, mirrored as they make a turn and run offscreen.
  • Mouth Cam: During the scene where Anya is holding the dead alligator's head up so Lena can examine its mutated teeth, there are a couple of shots from inside the gator's mouth looking at Lena, Ventress, and Shepherd.
  • My Greatest Failure: Lena eventually realizes that Kane accepted the mission to investigate Area X as a form of suicide after he discovered she was cheating on him, driving her to tears.
  • Named by the Adaptation: None of the characters in the book were named, so as a necessity, they were given names for the film — Lena is the biologist, Dr. Ventress is the psychologist. Instead of an anthropologist and a surveyor, we now have Josie the physicist and Cass the geomorphologist. A new character, Anya the medic, was made to round out the cast.
  • Nested Mouths: Played with. The mutated bear not only has a human skull fused into the left side of its own skull, behind-the-scenes material shows that it has human jaws protruding from the inside of its mouth.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Especially if it's a mutated alligator with shark teeth, as Josie finds out the hard way.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Similar to other films whose genre is difficult to pin down (i.e. Crimson Peak, It Comes at Night, mother!), the trailer depicts the film as a typical sci-fi horror movie rather than the slow-burning think piece (in the vein of Solaris, Stalker, or the director's own previous work) it actually is.
  • Nice Day, Deadly Night: Downplayed. The trip through the Shimmer has its fair share of daylight scares (including, yeah, a monster attack), but the majority of the flat-out fatal encounters occur at night.
  • No Antagonist: Though the Shimmer is shown to spawn hostile threats, it never does so out of maliciousness towards the team.
  • No Body Left Behind: Happens twice.
    • Josie, after discovering plants growing on her body, walks away from Lena and is consumed by the Shimmer. Lena chases after her, but finds nothing, not even one of the human-shaped trees.
    • Ventress dissolves into a ball of glowing, shapeshifting fractals at the end.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Although not exactly a horror film, it's still extremely fucking creepy. The bizarre nature of the Shimmer, slow pace, and lack of any definitive answers make for a very disturbing atmosphere even when nothing inherently scary is going on. The only exception to this is the bear attacks, which are definitely horror film material.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Played with.
    • Played straight, in that after Lena tricks the Humanoid clone into killing itself, the crystal trees outside the lighthouse fall apart and the Shimmer itself vanishes.
    • Subverted, however, in that the rest of the squad who lost their lives remain dead.
    • Also played with regarding Kane, who immediately heals from his life-threatening injuries after the Shimmer. What's not answered for sure is whether he's a clone of the real Kane, or if he is a clone, why he didn't die with the rest of the Shimmer.
  • Oh, and X Dies: In the very first scene, Lena tells the interrogator that Shepherd and Thorensen did not survive the mission into the Shimmer, and that the other two's fates were...unclear.
  • Only One Name: Lena and Kane (unless Kane is their last name, although it would be pretty weird for Lena to exclusively refer to her husband by his last name). The roster for Kane's team is at one point listed as "Peyton, Mayer, Kane, Shelley, Taylor", which heavily implies Kane is his last name.
    • Since both Kane and Lena are ex-military, it's possible that's how they met (this seems to be supported by a photograph of the two of them outside somewhere with both wearing their uniforms.) If they first met in a military surrounding they probably got so used to referring to and hearing each other called by their last names that it may have just stuck. Some real life military couples do indeed refer to each other by last name only as it's what they're used to calling each other from their time spent in the forces.
  • Possession Implies Mastery: Subverted. Despite the expedition all having carbines, only Lena is actually a good shot with them because of her Army background. During the mutated bear's second attack, Josie apparently learned from her prior failure to hit the crocodile, so she just ran right up to the bear and let loose in full auto from point-blank range. She still had to empty the magazine to finally take it down.
  • Practical Effects: Used extensively throughout. The bear and the alligator were both built on-set before being painted over in post-production, and Kane vivisecting his (willing?) comrade was done entirely in-camera using an actor with a prosthetic chest.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The film was approached as a standalone, while changing some elements from the original novel to fit in the movie. Among the elements excised are the tower, the Crawler, the "Where lies the strangling fruit..." phrase, and the subplot about the psychologist hypnotizing the group.
  • Precision F-Strike: Anya is the most foul-mouthed of the group. Lena also has her moments, such as:
    Lena: Something has come through the fence.
    Cassie: Through the fence?
    Lena: Swept it open like a fucking zipper...
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Subverted when Josie shoots the bear. She fires multiple times into its skull at near point blank range and blows a massive hole in the side of its head. It still takes a little while for the creature to die after that.
  • Properly Paranoid: The leaders of the Southern Reach won't let Lena leave and, after she emerges from the Shimmer, won't be in the same room as her without a hazmat suit. Given the stakes, they have every reason to be wary.
  • Race Lift:
    • In the book, Lena is explicitly described as half-Asian, thus making her biracial. By contrast, the film version is clearly white since she is played by Natalie Portman, an Israeli-American actress of Ashkenazic Jewish descent.
    • Similar to the Lena example above, the book counterpart of Dr. Ventress is half-white and half-Native American. In the film, she is simply depicted as white since she's played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.
  • Reality Is Out to Lunch: The Shimmer warps everything inside its sphere of influence in ways that simply shouldn't be possible. Plant and animals (humans included) are hybridized with ease, time doesn't flow naturally or even consistently, and near the center there are trees made of glass.
  • Reclaimed by Nature: Has happened behind the Shimmer.
  • Reincarnation: Vaguely the result of dying in the Shimmer, with one's consciousness being "refracted" by it instead of being lost. When Cass dies, it's implied her consciousness ends up split — her suffering going to the bear that killed her and the rest ending up in a pair of deer found near her corpse. At the end, the "Lena" and "Kane" who leave the Shimmer show traits of several members of their respective teams, implying this is the case for them as well.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: During the mutant croc attack, Anya's M4A1 jams on her. Holy fuck indeed.
  • Retired Badass: Lena spent 7 years in the military before the raid through the Shimmer.
  • Romantic Ribbing: In a Happy Flashback, Kane tells Lena that while he's on his upcoming mission, they'll be able to see the same stars when they look up at the sky. Lena starts laughing and asks him if he seriously thinks she spends her time melodramatically gazing up at the sky pining for him. She begins teasing him while he pretends to be offended, culminating in them making out. It helps establish that their relationship was genuinely loving until Lena cheated on Kane due to him always being away, which led to a heartbroken Kane going on a Suicide Mission.
  • Scenery Porn: The film is full of beautiful shots of Area X, courtesy of Mark Digby's production design and Rob Hardy's cinematography.
  • Secretly Dying: Ventress decided to enter Area X on account of having terminal cancer.
  • Serkis Folk: The Humanoid is portrayed through motion-capture CGI by Sonoya Mizuno.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: None of the cast is particularly swearing-averse, but Anya in particular drops F-bombs like nobody's fucking business.
  • Skull for a Head: The bear lacks skin on its skull.
  • Sole Survivor: Kane is the only survivor of his expedition, and he's barely hanging on by the time Lena enters Area X. Lena is the only survivor of her own journey into the Shimmer, although the ending casts serious doubt on whether either of them is the same person that came in.
  • Sound-Only Death: We only see a split-second shot of the bear attacking Cass, and only see her mutilated body in the aftermath. Otherwise we only hear her screaming for help as the bear drags her away.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the book, the Biologist's husband is dead by the time the story begins, having died of cancer after having returned from Area X. In the film, he's alive for at least a little while after he's returned. He survives the entire film, but it's ambiguous as to whether he's the real deal.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The mutated bear serves as the primary physical threat faced by the group, although it's not the focus of the film and is dealt with well before the final act. It even tracks the group over a full day's hiking to attack them at night. There exists a horrifying possibility that the bear's persistence is the result of it having absorbed part of Cass' consciousness, specifically the part of her that was in pain and fear as it killed her.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • The current expedition team consists of five scientists who are armed with M4A1 carbines — but only one of them has had any military training (Lena, the biologist with a background in the U.S. Army). When the mutated crocodile attacks, the other four spray bullets in its general direction but fail to make meaningful hits, until Lena focuses well-aimed kill shots at its head. Of course, the earlier expeditions of trained soldiers didn't last very long inside Area X either - it isn't the mutated wildlife that killed most of them...
    • During the mutated bear's first attack, at the old military base, they similarly fail to hit it — a fast-moving target at night in the middle of a pitch-dark wilderness.
    • Yes, that machine gun is really heavy. Just ask Anya.note 
  • Surreal Horror: One half of the movie's theme, combining it with Psychological Horror and First Contact.
  • Starfish Aliens: The entity that created the Shimmer is a bizarre being indeed. Seemingly arriving to Earth in a meteor at the start of the film, it first "appears" at the climax possessing Dr. Ventress, then explodes out of her body as an amorphous cloud of swirling colors, before assimilating a drop of Lena's blood to build itself a humanoid body with featureless, iridescent skin that mimics her every move.
  • Tap on the Head: Anya knocks out Lena with one of these before tying her up.
  • Traitor Shot: Subtly done. After Shepherd's death, the camera holds meaningfully on Anya for suspiciously long several times before she goes crazy and ties the others to chairs.
  • Title Drop: Like in the book, the movie's title gets dropped near the end. The context is completely different though. Ventress says that Annihilation is the ultimate result of the Shimmer, as the genetic code of everything inside the Shimmer gets reflected upon each other endlessly; eventually nothing will retain form, everything will become nothing. This necessitates its destruction by Lena.
  • The Topic of Cancer: The whole film is essentially a cancer metaphor applied to First Contact. A meteorite crashes on a beach, and starts to reform the environment and wildlife around it in a hazardous and aimless manner, right down to the laws of physics. Made explicit by one of the first scenes where the main character gives a lecture about cancerous cells to her class.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: In-Universe. Since no one but Lena actually saw the bear that took Cassie, Anya accuses Lena of killing Cass herself and either outright lying or hallucinating the bear. Of course, Anya finds out that the bear is very real soon enough, the hard way.
  • Too Dumb to Live: While most suicidally stupid moves can be blamed on people suffering from severe psychological distress (and potential brain scrambling), there is at least one absolutely qualifying event: the bivouac at the old Southern Reach HQ. Getting out of a ground-floor room and making camp in a guard tower at least 50 feet off the ground with a single point of access, unimpeded visibility, and a working door - perfect! The same team setting an observation post on the ground in an open kiosk with no doors that provides only partial cover and with a light guaranteed to wreck night vision and impair NV optics, stationing only one person at a time to ensure there's nobody to provide 360 observation and buddy support - terminally stupid. Made worse by the fact that they've already been through encounters with dangerous creatures at this point. Oh, and one of the team is ex-Special Forces.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Lena is implied nude in one scene — while she's having sex with Dan — and is only shown from the back.
  • Tragic Keepsake: After Cass's death, Anya takes her stuffed animal keychain.
  • Transflormation: May be the case with the humanoid plants in the town the expedition finds, if Josie's disappearance is anything to go by. The other, less grisly possibility is that they are simply plants which are growing by the genes responsible for the human body plan.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The bulk of the story comes from Lena recalling what happened to the best of her ability, as all sense of time and reason were jumbled while in the Shimmer. This contributes a lot to the Ambiguous Ending, the Kane who returned from the Shimmer is likely not the original, but when he and Lena embrace both eyes have a fractal glow, implying that this Lena was not the original either.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: As Lena crosses the beach to reach the lighthouse, she pays no attention to the impossible trees made of crystal or a seemingly deliberate arrangement of human bones. Justified because by this point, she's too traumatized and exhausted to acknowledge anything but her immediate goals.
  • Up Close with the Monster: There's an extended three-for-one when the mutated bear that killed Cassie earlier in the expedition finds Lena, Josie, and Ventress where they've been bound and gagged by their increasingly unhinged teammate Anya. The bear circles the three captive women, and has an opportunity to get up in everyone's face and terrify them as its mutations allow it to mimic its previous victim's dying screams.
  • The Unreveal: Anya suggests there are two possibilities for what happened to the rest of Kane's squad, that they were either killed by some kind of mutant inside the Shimmer, or that they went insane and killed each other. The only one of them whose fate the audience learns, other than Kane inside the lighthouse, and even that is never properly clarified, is the guy who was (apparently willingly) vivisected by Kane after his intestines turned into a living organism, and even then, we don't know whether that was actually what killed him.
  • Vasquez Always Dies: Downplayed. The Butch Lesbian Anya is the least feminine of the group and also gets the most brutal onscreen death. That said, almost everybody dies in this film.
  • Voice Changeling: The mutant bear mimics Shepherd's voice after it kills her, and — as Josie morbidly speculates — may have absorbed part of her consciousness.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: The very first thing Lena does after waking up in the Southern Reach complex is walk over to the bathroom and puke her guts out into the toilet... off-screen.
  • Wham Line: One that's shocking not so much for the words themselves as it is for who says them.
    Kane: If you get out of here, take care of Lena for me, will you?
    Cameraperson: (in Kane's voice) I will.
  • Wham Shot: One that ends the movie: Lena's eyes flickering with light in the same way Kane's did, implying that both of them may have been cloned by the shimmer.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: The opening scene has the quarantine scientist interrogating Lena, explaining that her team only brought about two weeks' worth of rations into the Shimmer, but she was inside for four months. She thought it was only days, maybe a week or two — but not months.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Annihilation


Annihilation (2018)

A strange and unknowable alien presence has turned a harmless coastline town into a place where all signals (be it radio signals or DNA) are reflected back into itself again and again, mutating all life within again and again. And the site is only growing bigger, the worse case scenario being the mutation of all life on the planet into a chaotic bramble beyond human comprehension.

How well does it match the trope?

4.92 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / CosmicHorrorStory

Media sources: