Annihilation (casting: Francine Maisler) comes out Feb. 23 and you won't want to miss it. That's because it's both a terrifying fever-dream of a movie and a heartening show of female badassery. Say what? If it sounds like a contradictory story, that's kind of the point, since where Annihilation takes place is a mind-bending territory called Area X that's presumably meant to be in Florida. Everything about this place is confusing, largely because every group that has gone into Area X to explore it has not returned. That is, until a biologist's husband (played by Oscar Isaac) returns from the secretive territory unconscious and ill. His wife, played by Natalie Portman, joins a group of female scientists to figure out what makes the area so dangerous, even while risking their lives.
While Portman plays Lena, the biologist, the other women include a paramedic (Gina Rodriguez), a physicist (Tessa Thompson), a psychologist (Jason Leigh), and an anthropologist (Tuva Novotny). Together, the women bravely enter the ever-expanding zone that makes up Area X, and to do so they must walk through a barrier that they call the Shimmer. In a featurette made by the film's studio, Portman explained, "The Shimmer is a sort of phenomenon." That's right, it's not a white-picket fence, or anything close to it, really. The Shimmer looks like a giant translucent bubble, complete with wavy rainbow-colored light. Nobody knows what causes that barrier, but the women are determined to understand it.
After they pass through the Shimmer, things only become progressively weirder, and that's when Annihilation transgresses a strictly sci-fi storyline and enters horror territory. Inside Area X, the scientists discover a lush land filled with genetically-mutated creatures. It's both familiar and utterly foreign at the same time, but the genetically mutated creatures ruin any sense of wonder the scientists may have and replace it with utter terror.
"It was amazing. But it was so real and terrifying. I had nightmares," Rodriguez described the film's set in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. While it may look otherworldly, the original location of Area X came from a real-world inspiration. The author of the book upon which the movie is based, Jeff VanderMeer, explained that Area X is meant to resemble Florida.
In a post he wrote for the blog, Weird Fiction Review, VanderMeer revealed that he based Annihilation on his own experiences in nature. "The setting in Annihilation is, more or less, a transformed version of the fourteen-mile hike I have done for almost 20 years at the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge here in North Florida," the author wrote. In the movie version of VanderMeer's sci-fi story, Area X bears a resemblance to the lush verdancy that you might picture in Florida, but it's not a great place to move to after you retire.
Even though VanderMeer wrote the book Annihilation with Florida's wilderness in mind, the movie's writer and director, Alex Garland — who previously created Ex Machina — approached the story in a completely different way. In an interview with Yahoo, Garland explained, "I took a really weird approach to the adaptation." He continued by explaining that he didn't dwell on the book too much after reading it one time. "I thought, I’m not going to re-read the book; I’m going to adapt it like a dream of the book."
The combination of VanderMeer's and Garland's vision for Area X yielded spectacular results. "I definitely think Annihilation is something we haven't seen quite yet," Rodriguez said in the featurette about the Shimmer. She's right. With Annihilation's imaginative hybrids of animals, from giant alligators with shark teeth to delicate deer with floral horns, the movie offers a lot of weirdness to take in. Even if the movie gives you nightmares, it will totally be worth it.