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Film Critic: 'Annihilation' is Both Enlightening & Entertaining

Paramount Pictures
Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh in "Annihilation."

Many science fiction movies qualify as visual spectacles, but there are only a select few that bring up the essential question of what it means to be human.

Alex Garland has been a novelist since the 1980s and emerged to mainstream audiences as a formidable science fiction screenwriter and director with Ex Machina four years ago.

Both that film and his latest, Annihilation, leave audiences pondering far after the credits roll.

The film centers on a mysterious “shimmer" zone of an extraterrestrial nature.  A group of women - a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist - sign up for a dangerous secret expedition into that zone, where the laws of nature don’t apply.

Arts and entertainment editor of the Shepherd Express and film contributor Dave Luhrssen says, "One thing that struck me is the reality of the female characters. I feel that I've met all of them at some point in life."

Luhrssen says this science fiction thriller is both entertaining and enlightening. Each component of the film - from the special effects to the pacing to the sound quality - all bring both awe and anxiety to the story, he explains.

Annihilation also faced some controversy before its release in American theaters. Deemed "too intellectual" by a producer for the average movie goer, the film is not being released internationally. Instead, Paramount made a deal with Netflix to pick up the film and will only be screened in theaters in the United States, Canada, and China. 

However, Luhrssen believes the film industry is "fixated narrowly" on certain kinds of success - such as opening weekend box office numbers. He says that both the film industry and audiences need films that provoke deep thought, not just escapism.

"I don't really want to give up on the idea that intelligent people would go out to see movies in theaters. I certainly hope that we never have to say that that's the fact, but it's a niche audience in many ways," he admits. "If the audiences don't come out to support these kinds of movies, there is a danger that they're not going to be made."

However, "whether through Netflix or though DVD or Blu Ray releases, I'm sure this movie will find a substantial cult audience out there and in the long run, the $40 million dollars will be earned back because of that," Luhrssen says.

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.
David Luhrssen is arts and entertainment editor of the Shepherd Express, co-founder of the Milwaukee International Film Festival and co-author of A Time of Paradox: America Since 1890. He is the winner of the Pace Setter Award for contributions to Milwaukee's film community from the Milwaukee Independent Film Society. David Luhrssen has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and Milwaukee Area Technical College.