Annihilation is a Tarkovsky film filtered through the sensibilities of John Carpenter. It is a horror film where the appearance of the so-called monsters is by far the least frightening event.
Annihilation is, above all, a well-thought-out film. Every moment feels deliberate in its placement and content; everything contributes to the building dread of the moment in which the film’s themes are fully realized. One might ask why the mere thematics of a film would provoke dread, and the answer would be that the horror of Annihilation is woven into the very concepts the film deals with.
Annihilation is, among many, many other things, a film about replication and duplication (of the self in particular). The terror that lies in that idea is that the potential of creating an identical but distinct copy of you reveals the fragility of the self. The borders between environment and individual are torn down because one’s consciousness can no longer gaze upon itself and be safe in the knowledge of its own uniqueness. When something becomes infinitely replicable, it loses its sense of belonging to a single, organic unity. This is illustrated in the very beginning scene of the film through the example of Henrietta Lacks’ ‘immortal’ cells. Although these cells live on far past the death of Lacks’ body, they are not properly hers because of that very property. It is on account of the fact that they may divide and therefore replicate infinitely that those cells are considered cancerous, a tumor that is distinct from what may be properly considered Lacks’ body.
The mysterious Area X, in which the majority of the film is spent, is a world of patterns, recombinations, and duplications. Everything may be reassembled and reborn within. Distinctions between species, between persons, and even between moments of time become meaningless in the face of this endless reassembly. That is the kind of science fiction film that Annihilation is: contemplative and existentially terrifying rather than exciting or action-packed. It is, in my estimation, a masterpiece, but only worth seeing for those who care more about themes and ideas than plot or character.