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Film Review Annihilation

Natalie Portman stars in "Annihilation." 

Paramount Pictures

Wow, 2018. You’ve brought us a wealth of terrific movies already, and it’s only February.

In years past, January and February have been dumping grounds for movies that studios didn’t really want to promote. Traditionally, it’s just before the Oscars, so movies that had been sitting on a shelf, sometimes for years, were dumped during this time with other less-than-stellar fare.

But 2018 has been an exception, with likes of “Paddington 2” for families, “Black Panther” for, well, everybody, and now the amazing “Annihilation,” a science-fiction think piece for grownups. It has a little bit of “Alien,” “Arrival” and some “Predator” in its cinematic DNA.

Written and directed by Alex Garland, whose “Ex Machina” also is an incredible sci-fi piece, the script is based on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel.

Both “Annihilation” and “Ex Machina,” which also starred Oscar Isaac, are, in a sense, stories of female empowerment. Both also have a brutality and bleakness about them. Viewers will discuss exactly what happens at the end here, so this is not for those who want the finale that neatly ties up a tale.

The movie begins with an interrogation in a hospital-like setting, where Lena (Natalie Portman) is surrounded by people wearing decontamination suits. The story jumps back and forth in time.

We learn that Lena had presumed her husband Kane (Isaac), with whom she shared had died on some kind of top-secret assignment. She is home painting a bedroom when she discovers her husband, who is quiet and confused, has returned.

But Kane isn’t the same. He refuses to answer questions and seems detached. When he becomes violently ill, he is transported to what apparently is some kind of government hospital facility, where Lena accompanies him.

Psychiatrist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) tells Lena that Kane was part of a secret volunteer group dispatched to investigate “The Shimmer” – some kind of field that seems to be encroaching on areas around it.

The people who have tried to investigate “The Shimmer” have not returned – that is, except for Kane. Now Lena becomes part of a group that includes Ventress and Josie (Tessa Thompson, “Creed.”) The explorers are intelligent, well-armed and determined. But they are not prepared for what they find, nor for what finds them.

The performances are enjoyable. Each woman has her own motivations for her theories, fears and actions when it comes to their discoveries about genetics and mutations inside “The Shimmer.”

It’s thought-provoking material that will provide great conversation for a cup of coffee or a beer after the film.