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annihilation (2018)

red flower a beautiful white flower a beautiful white flower a beautiful white flower


Lena, a former soldier and cancer biology professor at Johns Hopkins, is surprised when her husband returns from a year of no contact on a mission she knows nothing about. Shortly after he arrives, they're taken to the Southern Reach facility on the border, the Shimmer, between the real world and Area X.


The movie happens in flashback as Lena is interrogated by Lomax and a group of people in hazmat suits.

Three years ago, something crashes into a lighthouse in a column of rainbow smoke.

Kane, Lena's husband, arrives out of the blue while she's painting the bedroom. They have a short conversation before Kane spits out blood into the cup of water he's drinking. By the time an ambulance arrives, he's seizing. While the ambulance is taking Kane to the hospital, they're suddenly run off the road by the police and military, who take Kane and Lena.

Lena wakes up in a cell in the Southern Reach facility and has a conversation with a psychologist, Dr. Ventress, who tells her that Kane is dying of multiple organ failure.

Ventress shows Lena the Shimmer, the border between their world and Area X. The Shimmer looks like an oil slick floating in the air, refracting light into rainbow patterns. People go in and never come out in the effort to identify the Shimmer's source and prevent it from continuing to destroy the world. And it's advancing.

That night, Lena meets some Southern Reach employees: Anya, a bisexual paramedic; Cassie, a geomorphologist who studies magnetic fields around the earth; and Josie, an astrophysicist who studies the lifecycle of stars. Despite the failure rate of expeditions into Area X, all three of them, along with Ventress, will be embarking on an expedition in a few days.

Lena asks to join them.

They go inside the Shimmer. They encounter a mass of mutated flowers. A large albino crocodile attacks Josie and then approaches all four of them. Lena shoots it down and it's also fucked up and mutated with many concentric rings of teeth.

They find an abandoned military fort with bad vibes. There's a memory card left in a ziploc bag labeled "for those that follow". In the video, a man is tied to a chair. Kane cuts a large window of flesh in the man's abdomen, reveal rolling snakes inside him, like his intestines were replaced with large worms. Ventress leads them to where in the fort the incident occurred, where instead of a body has been mutated lichen and spores on the wall. Split in half, skull wrenched open.

That night, Lena wakes up from a nightmare and joins Ventress on her guard shift. They hear something, prompting Cassie, then Anya and Josie, to run down and join them. Lena notices a large hole in the fence and Cassie is dragged away by a large carnivorous creature. She screams for help until she stops.

The next morning, Anya and Josie want to leave. Ventress blows them off and leaves without them, determined to get to the lighthouse. After the disagreement, Anya confronts Lena, forces her to "pick a side" between going back with them or looking for the lighthouse with Ventress. Lena says she agrees with them, but she lies and tells them that going toward the lighthouse/coast is the better way to do it. They follow, Anya increasingly suspicious. She's extra slighted later when, after discovering Cassie's shoe, Lena sets out alone to determine if Cassie is aliveā€”and she is not.

That night, Anya knocks Lena out and when she wakes up she's gagged and tied to a chair. Anya confronts her with the locket with Kane's picture in it, worrying that Lena actually killed Cassie. She says that she didn't see a bear, so she has to trust Lena about the whole thing, but now she thinks Lena is a liar for not revealing about her relationship to Kane. Before Anya can do anything violent, they hear Cassie's voice screaming out for help, and Anya runs out after her.

A horrifying creature like a bear with an elongated skeletal face enters the house where Ventress, Josie, and Lena are tied up. When it roars, it sounds like Cassie screaming for help. Anya comes back to shoot the bear, but it retaliates and rips Anya's throat open and tears off her lower jaw. It goes for Lena but Josie shoots the creature in the head with a machine gun until it dies.

Ventress leaves in the night, leaving Lena and Josie behind. The next morning, Josie shows Lena that plants are growing out of her scars. She gives into the mutations, leaving Lena alone.

Lena finds the coast and then the lighthouse. As she gets closer, glass crystal trees litter the beach, and there are human skeletons arranged rituallistically at the base.

Inside is a hole surrounded by concrete lichen. Next to it is a charred skeleton sitting on the ground. Across is a video camera. When Lena plays the video, she sees Kane address the cameraman before killing himself with a phosphorous grenade. After the grenade goes off, the camerman is revealed to be Kane. Or, Kane, too.

Down below the hole, something can be heard. Lena enters the entry wound that looks like rippled and refracted stone and earth, turned obsidian with heat. In a center chamber is Ventress, her skin soft and green, skin covering her eyes. When Lena approaches her, she returns to normal.

Ventress erupts with a golden fractal, waves of shimmering brilliance, erupts from her mouth and fills the room, leaving her body behind to turn into nothing but refracted light and something alien and bright that looks out at Lena.

The fractal manifests with a human-like body, green soft and green with oil slicking rainbow. Lena and the form fight, the form copying and mirroring Lena. Using one of the phosphorous grenades, Lena pulls the pin and runs, leaving the body to absorb the explosion. The body begins to disintegrate, burning with white flames that take over the lichen on the lighthouse wall and then the lighthouse wall itself. Still aflame, the body crawls back down into the hole and into the central chamber. The fire refracts, setting the glass trees on the beach on fire.

The Shimmer fades. Everywhere.

Kane is healed and Lena inexplicably returns intact. Lena and Kane reunite, eyes shimmering.

our thoughts

pathological connection to Area X

We love that they decided to make the psychologist autistic this time. At least, that's how it feels. They made Lena a competent soldier with emotional intelligence even if she makes poor decisions, but in this one the psychologist is obsessed in a way that comes across as more intense than Lena's direct fascination with the world.

book spoilers

When VanderMeer writes the director, her obsession with Area X is seen as a natural consequence of her relationship with the land that she developed as a child, partly influenced by her multigenerational ties to the area. Her obsession is not pathologized, but in the movie Ventress is explicitly weird in ways she's not described as being in the book. In Annihilation, she knows more than she lets on, and she has devoted decades of her life to studying Area X, but it still doesn't come across as very *autistic*. Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance as Ventress really alienates her from the rest of the team in a way that the psychologist couldn't original risk when they first got inside.

There's also the part where, after the video, Ventress just walks off to the spot where she knew the scene had taken place. Doesn't tell anyone, doesn't stop to think, just sets off. Cute.

music and diegesis

In the scene where Kane returns home while Lena is painting the bedroom, the diegesis of the music is ambiguous. The first part of the song plays over a shot of her crying on the couch and then the next shot is of her in the bedroom painting, with no break in the music, therefore implying that the music is non-diegetic, she can't really hear it, only the audience can. However, in the shot to Kane downstairs, the music is muffled, like it's being played upstairs. We later learn that it's a song that's played before while they were together, implying she just listens to that song a lot.

The other ambiguous sounds are when the shimmer has manifested the body and it interacts with Lena. The sounds are terrifying and weird. It could just be the music of the scene, meant to evoke fear within the viewer, or it's the actual sound created by the creature, which we think is even more terrifying. The sounds are scary.

jennifer jason leigh

Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance is very stilted and intense. She has a habit of letting a small smile slide onto her face during inappropriate times, a feature of the psychologist in the book. It may be a consequence of the performance of the audiobook, but the psychologist didn't feel this stilted. Despite the amazing facial experiences, we're a little disappointed that they cast out of body size; in the books, the psychologist isn't so thin. Missed opportunity.

There's also the scene where Anya confronts Ventress, "and you knew all along." Ventress just looks with the most pathetic expression in the entire world. It's amazing.

natalie portman

Natalie Portman looks nothing like the biologist as she's described in Authority, but she's also a completely different character. Lena's soldier background with Kane is invented for the movie, but as mentioned in our thoughts about the psychologist, we think giving the character more survivability helps the audience suspend their disbelief that Lena would survive the intensities. She gives Lena a seriousness and intensity that the biologist has in the books, but she maintains more social relationships than the biologist, which fundamentally changes the character.

Making Lena, the protagonist and, in a way, audience surrogate into Area X, more normal makes more sense for the movie, so making a side character have more of her other traits also makes sense.


VENTRESS: I've been watching the phenomenon for a while now. I profile the volunteers. I pick the team. They enter. I watch. I watch it grow closer. There's only so long one can do that.

LENA: But you need to know what's inside?

VENTRESS: Yes. I do.

ANYA: Sharks have teeth like that, don't they?

VENTRESS: Could it be a cross breed?

VENTRESS: Then as a psychologist, I'd say you're confusing suicide with self-destruction. Almost none of us commit suicide, and almost all of us self-destruct. In some way, in some part of our lives. We drink, or we smoke. We destabilize the good job or the happy marriage. But these aren't decisions, They're... They're impulses. In fact, you're probably better equipped to explain this than I am.

LENA: What does that mean?

VENTRESS: You're a biologist. Isn't self-destruction coded into us? Programmed into each cell?

KANE: I thought I was a man. I had a life. People called me Kane. And now I'm not so sure. If I wasn't Kane, what was I? Was I you? Were you me?

My flesh moves like liquid. My mind is just cut loose. I can't bear it. I can't bear it. ... You ever seen a phosphorous grenade go off? They're kinda bright. Shield your eyes. If you ever get out of here, you find Lena.


KANE: Five, four, three, two ...

VENTRESS: It's the last phase. Vanished into havoc. Unfathomable mind. And now beacon. Now sea.

LENA: Dr. Ventress?

VENTRESS: Lena? We spoke. What was it we said? That I needed to know what was inside the lighthouse. That moment's passed. It's inside me now.

LENA: What's inside you?

VENTRESS: It's not like us. It's unlike us. I don't know what it wants. Or if it wants. But it will grow until it encompasses everything. Our bodies and our minds will be fragmented into their smallest parts until not one part remains. Annihilation.


an orange starfish lena

member of the 12th expedition

  • professor of biology
  • married to kane, a member of the 11th expedition
  • former soldier
  • joins the 12th expedition while kane is unresponsive, because she felt that she owed him after cheating on him with daniel
  • watches the video from the 11th expedition showing kane cutting someone open and showing off their unnerving insides
  • sees cass get taken away by a bear and later finds her dead body
  • lies to anya and josie, saying they can leave by the coast when really she just wants to go to the lighthouse
  • anya catches her locket with kane's picture in it so she's tied to a chair along with ventress and josie by anya
  • after anya's death, she watches josie disappear before following ventress to the lighthouse
  • finds ventress in the center of the lighthouse before she bursts into a rainbow fractal
  • encounters her doppelganger and manages to make it blow itself up with a phosphorus grenade, destroying the terroir of area x

member of the 11th expedition

  • soldier
  • lena's husband
  • gets cheated on by lena and learns of the affair before he goes to area x
  • the man who returns is not actually lena's husband
  • the double returns from area x after a year of no communication
  • the double can't remember anything of the events over the past year
  • the double starts coughing up blood and lena calls an ambulance while his organs start to fail
  • the double is stabilized by the southern reach, but nonresponsive
  • when the shimmer destroys itself, the double feels better
an illustration of a fig branch with a caterpillar and fig and a large moth ventress

the psychologist of the 12th expedition

  • picks the teams that go into area x
  • wants to go to the lighthouse
  • has aggressive cancer
  • intent on discovering the secrets of area x

the paramedic of the 12th expedition

  • strong constitution
  • ouroboros tattoo on her forearm
  • a former alcoholic
  • scared by the video of kane and the other members of the 11th expedition
  • distrusts lena after cass dies
  • knocks out and ties up the remaining members of the expedition and confronts lena about her relationship with kane
  • attacks but is killed by the bear / cass creature

the astrophysicist of the 12th expedition

  • shy
  • studies the life-cycles of stars
  • has a history of self-harm
  • gets scared of the video of the 11th expedition members, so is drugged by cass to sleep better
  • is tied up along with lena and ventress when anya freaks out
  • after anya dies, decides to accept area x and disappears into a bright green grassy area filled with flowers with tangled stems in the shapes of people

geomorphologist of the 12th expedition

  • sturdy
  • compassionate
  • observant
  • daughter died of leukemia
  • literally announces the movie themes when she describes the experiences that changed them that leave them different people
  • attacked by the bear creature
  • her dying screams and the bear's roar combine
  • lena finds her dead body, throat ripped out

made up for the movie

  • in like two scenes
  • lena has an affair with him
  • they both teach at the same university
  • married


  • asking questions
  • interviews lena after she returns from area x