Director Alex Garland tells EW about his 'beautiful and disturbing' sci-fi film
In the upcoming sci-fi film Annihilation, a group of scientists set out to explore an area that has been overtaken by a mysterious force and is full of strange sights — and terrors. The film stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny, Gina Rodriguez, and Tessa Thompson as the members of the team, while Oscar Isaac plays the husband of Portman’s character.
Annihilation — which just released its second trailer — is written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina) and based on Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel of the same name.
“I read the book in one sitting,” says Garland, whose screenwriting credits include 2002’s seminal rage-virus horror film 28 Days Later and 2012’s sadly underseen Dredd. “I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and I really enjoyed the prose, and I enjoyed the sheer originality of it. The actors carry a lot of weight in this movie, they’ve got a lot on their shoulders. I’d seen Natalie in a bunch of stuff, and I knew that she had a lot of strength, and a lot of presence of a particular sort. She can portray characters that are very very strong, but also have a kind of inner damage to them, and that was the key to that protagonist.”
The film is not short of eye-popping visuals, as the new trailer makes clear. “Well, essentially, what happens in the film is a group of scientists enter into a zone where there is a very strange phenomenon happening,” says Garland. “And then, once we’re in that zone, it was the responsibility of the production designers, and the VFX team, and the special effects team, to live up to that strangeness. The only way we could make this film was by lots of groups of people working very closely together, so there was a lot of practical effects, there was a lot of visual effects, there’s a lot of lighting effects. We tried to aim for something that was beautiful and disturbing and seductive, all at the same time. And I think that the collective that made the film managed to pull that off.”
Annihilation will receive a theatrical release in the U.S., but it was reported earlier this month that Paramount and Skydance were negotiating with Netflix for the film to be streamed in many foreign territories. What does Garland think about that?
“Well, it was made for theatrical release,” the director says. “It was made with the intention of seeing it in a cinema, and so it was kind of dismaying, and disappointing, that it wasn’t felt that that was the right way forward. But you know, it is what it is. There’s pluses to it. Netflix reaches a lot of people. You don’t have the grief of that terrifying opening weekend, and people talking about box office, or whatever. I don’t know. I guess what I feel is, it is what it is, and I know the film’s being released theatrically in America, and I’m really happy about that. After you’ve made a film, mainly what you hope is just that people will dig it. [But] in my opinion, the right place to watch it would be a cinema, because that’s how we made it, that’s what we made it for.”
Not that Garland has anything against the small screen per se, as the filmmaker reveals when EW asks what he is doing next.
“I know what I’m going to try to do next,” Garland says. “I’m trying to write an eight-part TV series so I don’t have to worry about theatrical releases anymore. [Laughs] I’m trying to write something for FX. You’re always looking for places where you feel like a good fit. I took an idea to FX, and they dug it, and hopefully that’s going to work out.”
Annihilation opens Feb. 23. Watch the new trailer above.