What does the alien want? Although it mirrors Natalie Portman’s actions and appears to commit suicide, the final scene reveals that actually, it doesn’t share Portman’s suicidal urges. In its own weird way, it saves her marriage.

The alien’s modus operandi is ‘refraction’ – the scrambling of reality to create new forms. It is creative whereas the humans in the film are (self)destructive. We may experience these effects as annihilation, but from the alien’s perspective it is exactly the opposite.

It’s hardly a comforting thought to assume the point of view of a cancer, which is why this film lacks the charge of Garland’s Ex Machina, where male power was overturned by a sympathetic ‘alien’ female. Here the alien may just represent Eros defeating humanity’s Thanatos – the (supposedly) impulsive way Portman’s sabotages her marriage being replaced with the will to save it. It doesn’t quite work because the marriage feels unreal to begin with, and ‘impulse’ is not a great explanation for Portman’s infidelity.

Garland has done better before. In its structure Annihilation is similar to the Garland-penned, Danny Boyle-directed Sunshine, where the characters spent less time explaining who they were, and their cabin fever environment made better sense of their descent into madness. There are some shudder-inducing moments in Annihilation, as well as a few beautiful sequences, but nothing that compares to the thrill-ride of Sunshine’s final 30 minutes. That it went straight to Netflix in Europe is somehow fitting – it’s not as good as Garland’s previous work would suggest it should be.

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