We’ve seen a trailer for Annihilation, Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina, which stars Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, and Oscar Isaac. That was a promising trailer, and I was way into it. Now we have a second trailer, expanding on the plot and emphasizing the horror aspect of the film, and laying out why Natalie Portman is exploring an alien-ish landscape behind a sci-fi soap bubble. This second trailer also includes some kind of skull-headed dino-beast, so now I’m WAY INTO IT. But here’s the thing: Annihilation might be bad.
When the first image from the film was released, I noted Annihilation has a February release date. Thanks to some recent box office successes, February isn’t quite the wasteland it was, so I was hopeful that Annihilation wasn’t being buried in February, but was instead intending to take advantage of newly fertile box office ground. Well, I’ve heard from a few people Annihilation is bad. What I don’t know is if it’s bad-bad, or just really f*ckin’ weird, because one is a problem but the other has potential. If it’s just really f*ckin’ weird, it might not be for everyone, but there could still be an audience for it.
There are, however, some clues as to which way it might break. One is that Paramount sold off the international distribution rights to Netflix. “Straight to streaming” is not the curse that “straight to video” was (see also: MUDBOUND), but it doesn’t look great. Paramount will still release Annihilation in theaters in North America and China—the two biggest markets—but they’re basically cutting their losses everywhere else. Not a confidence booster. The other warning sign is that Annihilation is not premiering at Sundance. I originally noted that a Sundance premiere would go a long way to assuaging fears about that February date, but there isn’t one and so the fears remain. Based on the trailers, this movie looks awesome. But the circumstantial evidence is mounting that, at the very least, Paramount has no idea what to do with this movie. Best scenario, Annihilation is just a weird flick that doesn’t have wide appeal. Worst case scenario, it sucks and it is, in fact, being buried in February.