A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Annihilation is a brainy but amazing sci-fi movie from the director of Ex Machina and based on Jeff VanderMeer's novel. It has several creepy, scary, and/or unsettling scenes, as well as scenes of blood and gore, monster attacks, guns and shooting, and death. A woman is shown having an affair; sex is implied via moaning and movement (there's no graphic nudity, and the two participants aren't shown on-screen at the same time). There's also a scene of a married couple in bed in their underwear, comfortable and kissing. Language is strong, with several uses of "f--k" and "s--t." It's rare -- but nice! -- to see this type of movie primarily featuring women (Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, and Tessa Thompson star). Annihilation is closer in spirit to films like Stalker and 2001: A Space Odyssey than Star Wars or superhero movies, so it might not be for everyone.
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What's the story?
In ANNIHILATION, biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) is mourning the loss of her soldier husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac). Then he suddenly shows up, extremely disoriented and unable to remember anything. But when Lena tries to take him to the hospital, they're intercepted and taken instead to a secret government facility. There, Lena learns about The Shimmer, a mysterious force that has appeared out of nowhere and seems to be expanding. All efforts to enter into it have met with failure; no one has come back alive except Kane. Teaming up with four other women -- Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Josie (Tessa Thompson), and Cass (Tuva Novotny) -- Lena volunteers to go into the unknown area, hoping to save her husband as well as solve the mystery. But what she finds inside is beyond even her wildest expectations.
Is it any good?
Alex Garland's second directorial outing after the excellent Ex Machina, this brainy, metaphysical sci-fi is even more ambitious and more amazing. But its challenging conclusion could be a hard sell. Based on Jeff VanderMeer's novel, Annihilation slightly resembles Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979), a highly artistic masterpiece from a much braver time, when audiences were less likely to balk at ambiguity. Like Ridley Scott did in Blade Runner 2049, Garland combines unusual, imaginative visuals, ideas, and sounds with more traditional audience-aimed thrills -- but he does so far more seamlessly than Scott. The film is less focused on climactic battles, instead heading toward a far more poetic, surreal ending.
The shape of Annihilation is nothing short of brilliant, with a linear, minimalist starting point that consists of simple, straightforward images (like a lighthouse). It then opens up like a strange, exotic flower, following different offshoots to new, unexpected points in its unpredictable world. The movie is admirable for featuring five women (and no men) as the characters who embark on the journey; Portman's performance especially makes it an emotional one. But given that the movie is sometimes creepy and perhaps even unsettling, it sets itself up as being more of a cult favorite than a mainstream hit -- it's closer to 2001: A Space Odyssey than to Star Wars. Still, if you prefer your sci-fi deep, then you're in for a treat.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Annihilation's violence. How do the scenes with blood and gore compare to the more indescribable, creepy scenes? How did they all affect you? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
Why is it noteworthy that the main characters in this film are mostly women? Are they role models? Why or why not?
How does this story compare to other sci-fi movies you've seen? Are some movies based more on ideas than action? Which do you prefer?
The film has drawn some criticism for potentially "whitewashing" some of the key roles. Have you heard this term before?
Does this movie have an ambiguous ending? What do you think happens?
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