The first image from Annihilation, Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina, has been released and it shows Natalie Portman rubbing a Q-tip on an albino alligator, so I’m sold. (I can just feel someone being like, “Actually, that’s a crocodile.”) You know what this reminds me of? The end of Werner Herzog’s documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, when he goes on a tangent about albino alligators and then just ends the movie. I love Werner Herzog. I also love Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina, which is as weird and unsettling as Werner Herzog talking about albino alligators.
So it’s right up my alley that Annihilation brings together albino alligators and Alex Garland and that sense of Herzogian weirdness. The movie is based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, and it’s about four women who go on a scientific expedition into “Area X”, a quarantined section of the United States where some weird sh*t is happening. The book is described as “eco-horror”—so like, Silent Spring?—and Natalie Portman’s character is looking for her husband, who disappeared on a previous expedition. The husband is played by Oscar Isaac, and the cast also includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Ex Machina’s silent dancing robot, Sonoya Mizuno (Araminta Lee in Crazy Rich Asians). There are a lot of reasons to be into this movie is what I’m saying.
Just don’t let that February release date scare you off. Thanks to the success of Deadpool, and to a lesser extent Fifty Shades of Grey and The LEGO Movie, February is now more attractive box office real estate. (Next year, Black Panther will undoubtedly double-down on that belief.) Annihilation could be a Sundance premiere, for instance, and then a platform release that carries it through March. Black Panther is certain to dominate next February, but a well-managed arthouse release should still be able to find a niche. But Ex Machina was a sleeper hit in 2015, and Annihilation has a big name star in Portman, and also Thompson will be coming off Thor: Ragnarok, and it already has distribution in place with Paramount. The box office is REALLY tough right now. Please, don’t get overzealous and set up this weird artsy female-led horror movie up to fail.