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Annihilation won't give you answers, but surrender to its beautiful fever dream and you won’t regret it

Whether or not a copy of the original novel Annihilation sits on your bookshelf, you'll come out of the movie adaptation with questions. Questions about the strange, alien ecosystem that is Area X, about the entity that created it, and on the films ambiguous ending. Director Alex Garland knows his way around a science fiction plot, but Annihilation is his most ambitious yet precisely because of what it leaves out.

The synopsis is deceptively simple at first. After a biologist's husband returns home from a secret mission, she (played by a brilliantly tough but brittle Natalie Portman) ends up volunteering to follow in his footsteps to investigate the mysterious "Area X" with a band of kickass women. Area X is affected by a strange miasma called the Shimmer, an unexplained force that affects and adapts the ecosystem within it. But what's causing it? What exactly did it do to the expeditions that had tried to explore it before? What does it want? 

From there the story bends and warps, the team stops trusting time or each other, and the world inside Area X is a heady combination of beautiful - flowers blooming and growing in strange shapes - and violent, like a flesh hungry alligator or a nightmarish bear thing. Garland makes you chase after the women wanting explanations, but when they do come they're just crumbs that leave you hungry for more. 

Sure, it can be hard getting crumbs when you're used to being served the whole cake, with a step by step guide to well-worn plot iced on top in large icing letters, but it's humbling to go into a strange world and discover it along with the characters, to form your own theories, watch them get smashed apart by a new surprise, and have to start over. While it tells a very different story, Annihilation left me with the same feelings as Under the Skin, another science fiction story with striking visuals. Both took beloved novels and used them as inspiration, rather than paint by numbers, to build their own haunting worlds. 

For me, the uncertainty didn't do anything to lessen the emotional impact. One scene with the aforementioned bear will stalk the dark corners of mind every time I turn out the lights. Another, with Tessa Thompson (now firmly on my list of people who make any movie they star in a must-see) and her character Josie Radek, managed to be subtle and stealthily heartbreaking all at once. You'll never look at the Chelsea Flower Show the same way again.

The real deal breaker for most people will be the ending, the final scene comes at you in a wave of crazy that leaves you disorientated and a little unsure of how to interpret it. Here's the secret, it doesn't matter. The pay off isn't a final answer you can sum up in the length of a tweet, it's the ride that you've been on, the story you build for the characters after the credits have rolled.  

Rachel Weber
Rachel Weber

Rachel Weber is the US Managing Editor of GamesRadar+ and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Rachel began working in games journalism in 2006, combing her love of video games with her passion for writing. Starting as a fresh-faced staff writer of Official PlayStation Magazine, she went on to cover the business side of the industry with, before joining Rolling Stone's ambitious - if short-lived - Glixel project in 2016. She returned to Future and joined GamesRadar+ in 2017, revitalizing the news coverage and building new processes and strategies for the US team.

Throughout her 15 years of experience, Rachel has interviewed celebrities about their gaming habits, chatted with PlayStation and Xbox bosses, written thousands of words of previews, reviews, and news, and appeared as an expert on BBC radio and TV. In the name of games journalism, she's also taken rap lessons, appeared on the streets of London as a zombie, tried her hand at sword-fighting, and taken part in more than one 24-hour gaming marathons. 

When she's not on duty for GamesRadar expect to see her hunting down the weirdest indie games on Steam, curling up with the latest horror novel, or binging the newest must-see crime documentary. You can find her at @therachelweber on Twitter.