“Annihilation” film review

Outstanding craftsmanship that provides a trippy, surrealist experience! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a horror science-fiction film like this one–one that harkens back to the manner in which Stanley Kubrick terrified audiences with his cinematic masterpieces. The brilliance of this film is the visually disturbing storytelling that’s built upon metaphysical and philosophical queries as well as Freud’s uncanny. Written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina) and based upon the Southern Reach book series by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation boasts an all-female lead cast that takes the audience on a gripping, nail-biting adventure into the unknown that is frocked with wonder and tragedy. Falling in line with extraterrestrial films, this one exists somewhere between Alien and Arrival with influences from Kubrick and even Salvador Dali. Don’t wait for it to be released on Netflix internationally to avoid watching it at your local cinema; this IS a film best viewed, experienced, and enjoyed on the BIG screen–and not the 65in in your living room. For those who look for and appreciate science-fiction and/or horror films that explore psycho-social and institutional themes, then this is truly a film for you. Cognitively engaging and physiologically disturbing, Annihilation is a turbulent, horrific adventure.

After a mysterious meteor-like object strikes a lighthouse in Area X (most likely the swamplands of northwestern Florida), an increasingly growing membrane-like phenomenon is slowly swallowing up the land around it. When several paramilitary and scientific expeditions do not return from exploring the anomaly, biology professor Lena Kane (Natalie Portman) is aggressively recruited to work on the next team of scientists to track, report, analyze and potentially rescue former teams from what’s being called “the shimmer.” Professor Kane and her team have no idea that they will be facing their worst nightmares inside the shimmer as they explore this unknown world filled with dangerous opposition from the creatures that live within and the psychosis-like tension between the team members themselves.

Definitely not a film for the general masses. And you know what??? That is perfectly fine. In fact, that’s why this film works so incredibly well as an avant-garde-like science-fiction horror film. Had it directed for the masses, the film would not be nearly as stimulating psychologically and physiologically. Much like Garland did with the Oscar-winning Ex Machina, he crafts a world based on the best-selling series that takes the audience on a disturbing journey into the macabre, which juxtaposes the physical and metaphysical dimensions. Garland’s Annihilation is a masterful cinematic work that combines excellent writing with exceptional imagery and stunning practical effects. If Dali were alive today, this is the kind of film that he would have wanted to work on because there is such a heavy surrealist approach to the production design and visual effects. But this film is so much more than just the cinematic beauty of the motion picture. There are philosophical questions that one may ask oneself that create an added dimension of engagement that further immerses the audience into the world of the film.

Much like with Ex Machina, Garland shows an obsession with the need to see and see through when observing an unknown entity that may or may not be sentient. Paralleling how he set up the glass wall between Caleb and Ava (the AI) in the compound/lab designed by Nathan (Oscar Isaac, who is also in Annihilation), Garland sets up the interrogation room in which we are first introduced to Lena while she is being interviewed by the team in hazmat suits. I love the play on perspectives, vantage points if you will in both movies. That fluctuation between a filtered and unfiltered view of the phenomenon under observation offers much depth to the storytelling. In Annihilation, we are initially introduced to the shimmer, and world within, through sensors, readouts, and other “filters” but then we are thrust into the horrifying flora, fauna, and animal life without any type of protective boundary. Freud refers to the revealing of that which should remain hidden or the return of the repressed (which we literally get to witness in this film) as that which is uncanny (click for article). Just as our characters are constantly searching for clarity, you will find yourself paying close attention to the unknown to gain an unhindered understanding of what you are witnessing.

Not your average science-fiction horror film, this one will truly get under your skin–much like The Shimmer invades the bodies of those who choose to enter the dark twisted, refracted world of that which lies beyond our senses. Truly terrifying, this film is one for those who love a sci-fi horror that will prompt you to contemplate the themes and subtext of the movie. One of the quandaries that face the characters, and by extension, the audience is the idea of self-destruction versus suicide–the physiological versus the psychological components. For those who may worry that the film is “too intellectual,” the story is told in such a way that it not only appeals to film critics, academics, or horror aficionados but can be enjoyed by those who like a good, disturbing scare. The fact that there is the “intellectual” dimension to the film adds to the experience for those who appreciate that element in visual storytelling.

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“A Cure for Wellness” movie review

acureforwellnessAn intriguing, provocative psychological thriller that’s an innovative example of neo-noir avant-garde cinema with a touch of mystery. Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness is a thought-provoking film that hooks you from the very beginning and continues to draw you into the narrative with its labyrinth of subplots and incredibly beautiful cinematography. Although it certainly borrows turning points and plot devices from past films, A Cure for Wellness provides audiences with an experience that is unique and protects the film from being pigeonholed into any one sub-genre of horror or directly compared to other movies that have similar attributes. With impeccable production designs and serene landscapes juxtaposed against cringe-worthy disturbing imagery, Verbinski’s ambitious film is one that cinephiles will appreciate and find enjoyment in discussing the various themes, symbols, and visual storytelling elements that seamlessly work together to create a cinematic experience that stands out against the homogeneous horror/mystery-thriller past films. Justin Haythe’s screenplay sets him up for continued success as he demonstrates, with this film, that he can cross into new genres and hook the audience early on. Despite the occasional slow-burning periods in the narrative, you will not likely feel the nearly 2.5hr runtime.

After he receives a corner office in a high rise building, a stock broker finds himself involved in an investigation that requires the presence of the entire board. Mr. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is forced by his fellow directors, on the board, to fly to Switzerland to retrieve the CEO in order to complete a proposed merger to save the company from closure. Little does he know that those who voluntarily check in to the mysterious wellness center seldom desire to leave the prestigious mountaintop retreat-like spa and its famous water. When the CEO of his company refuses to leave the comfort of the retreat, Lockhart decides to wait it out in the village below the hilltop. After a bizarre car accident on his way back into town from the institution, Lockhart finds himself a patient due to his broken leg. Under the guidance of Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), Lockhart experiences all the wellness center has to offer to the patients and guests. However, he cannot help but feel that there is a darkness surrounding the cult-like daily operations at the spa and begins to dig into the history of the prestigious wellness institution. After meeting a rather unusual patient at the institution named Hannah (Mia Goth), Lockhart is determined to unravel the mystery of how so many people, including himself, are diagnosed with the same bizarre ailment that keeps them there for the cure.

Beautiful. The first cinematic element that will jump out at you will be the incredible cinematography and picturesque landscapes of the Swiss Alps. From the moment the film opens, there is a tone that inspires you to look at and listen for details throughout the film. The fact that the teasers and trailers reveal very little about the plot is beneficial to the overall experience of the film. Just when you think you have the plot figured out, you will be thrown for a loop and question what you thought was predictable. In all fairness, I figured out a very important aspect to the plot midway through after a particular line delivered by one of the central characters prompted me to have one of those aha moments. However, I was still continually intrigued by the film’s diegetic delivery and visual storytelling. The fact that I figured some rather crucial information did not detract from the experience. Early on, it is clear that there is something not right with the spa, and gathering information and piecing together the puzzle will draw you in closer to the film. Without giving anything away, there are definitely clues along the way that reveal the dark mystery and history behind the exclusive mountain retreat wellness institution.

Dane DeHaan delivers an excellent performance as Lockhart, and provides the perfect balance of entitled Wall Street prick, detective, and humanitarian on a rescue mission. Jason Isaacs, no stranger to playing a creepy villain, delivers a disturbingly convincing performance as the strange doctor overseeing the almost clandestine treatments for an unknown sickness. Mia Goth’s performance adds a great deal of uneasiness to the film by coming across as innocent, child-like, all the while hiding something creepy and peculiar about her very pretense at the facility. Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography is breathtaking and is successful at completely immersing the audience into the mountain top world of the Swiss Alps. Whether following a train or an extreme close-up of the human eye (a staple in horror films), the visual art he paints with the camera serves to provide solid visual storytelling. Directing such a complex film requires great patience, organization, and effective guidance. Verbinski channels his success with The Ring (2002) by integrating some similar stylistic techniques in A Cure for Wellness. Speaking of the title itself, the irony in the title isn’t realized until the third act; but, delivers an outstanding payoff that will prompt many discussions in a film studies class. Stylistically, the film sits at a crossroads between avant-garde horror and neo-noir with some science-fiction and mystery thrown in for good measure and intrigue.

Despite many reviews slamming the film for a complex system of subplots and not enough traditional terror in the narrative, this film is a fine example of an outstanding vision that is seldom seen on the silver screen due to the fact that it will not likely make a lot of money, but it adds critical value to the art of motion pictures. Instead of creating a film that would have included many of the more typical tropes in this hybrid science-fiction mystery/thriller, Verbinski chooses to meticulously craft art for the screen. For the squeamish, there are definitely some scenes that will churn your stomach and even some disturbing imagery that many will like to unsee. If you enjoy avant-garde cinema or even innovative neo-noir storytelling, then you will likely enjoy this film and appreciate the vision of the director as well as the beautifully complex themes, subplots, and symbolism.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“Anomalisa” movie review

AnomolisaAn anomaly of a movie. Okay, so my first line seems a little redundant given the title of the movie, but I honestly could not think of a more appropriate opening. Watch as the classic look and feel of claymation is pushed to new limits. However, a rather curt summary of this movie would be an avant-garde interpretive film that is overly abstract and subjective. Very much art house cinema material, this animated film has no clear message and provides the audience much to think about. However, due to the lack of coherency, it is difficult to apply a common theme or interpretive message throughout the narrative in its entirety. Despite the utter weirdness of the film, you will undoubtedly find yourself identifying with or interpreting various scenes in different ways; although, you may also ask yourself “what the???” after you leave the auditorium. It is definitely an animated film that is extremely artistic and serves as evidence that animation for adults can break from the confines of the living room or computer and find a place amongst other live-action avant-garde films. For fans of Cyndi Lauper, you will get a kick out of one of the scenes in particular, and also notice an analogy in the writing that goes along with her timeless hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

Michael Stone is a successful businessman and author who is spending the weekend in Cincinnati to talk about his book on improving customer service in stores and other businesses. Along the way, he finds himself meeting many people who adore him and his work–an all too familiar encounter. Upon a chance meeting in the hallway of his hotel, he meets Lisa who captures his attention in a way that no-one has in a long time. Unfortunately, he must deal with personal and interpersonal conflict throughout his business trip and must decide how to handle and move-on with life.

Well, that is pretty much it. There really isn’t much more to say because of the very nature of this film. Much of what you may find enjoyable is the awkward romantic claymation scenes and the ability to gleam from the film whatever you may. One thing is for sure, whereas I find the film to be entirely too abstract and subjective, I can definitely appreciate it for pushing the boundaries of how one typically views or experiences claymation films.