Director: Alex Garland.
Alex Garland, who’s recently rised to fame with his highly captivating Ex-Machina directs his visualisation of the award winning, titular novel by Jeff VanderMeer that was published back in 2014. The first book of VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy but let it be noted, Garland had already planned this film before the sequels were even published.
Let’s not forget Garland has a lot more than Ex-Machina under his belt; yes it was his directorial debut and an outstanding one at that. But Garland had penned a number of movies prior, such as Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, 28 Days Later and he actually wrote the novel of The Beach. And just looking at this short list, it still can be a good indicator to the creative style and genre Garland is great with.
An unexplained anomaly seems to have engulfed a small area of land on the Floridian coastline creating a bubble like threshold which continues to grow from a lighthouse at it’s epicentre. A squad of women are the last expedition to venture into what is now called “the shimmer” and we quickly learn that a number of various expeditions have yet to return, supposedly missing or dead.
There’s a lot more complexity to the story involving the characters, especially our lead, military biologist, Lena (Portman) who has more of a personal reason for entering into what is essentially a suicide mission. But much of this film relies heavily on this complexity, a complexity that actually spurred a disagreement between producers after poor test screenings, with one demanding a redrafted simplified ending. Yes, it’s profoundly complicated and thought-provoking, but this is what makes the film so compelling.
Each of the team have they’re own attributes and broken reasons for embarking on the mission but more importantly, each bring their own personality each adds some good substance to the already complicated mystery, the characters are almost as enigmatic than the story itself. Well, I say complicated loosely as the plot line is fairly linear. It’s what they discover and the reasons as to why is what makes this confusing. Each actress portrayals their roles perfectly with Portman being the obvious centre piece, though does well to not steal too much away from the supporting cast.
The film has that same eerie tingling intrigue that Stranger Things had, where you want to know more but a little frightful of what you might discover. Especially with the use of some horrifying found footage from previous expeditions. But whilst it’s all very daunting and chilling, it’s very much thanks to your own curiosity as oppose to tense atmospheres. The elements they do discover are not shied away and only lead to deepening the mystery.
Though much is theorised and partly explained, I was left with some unanswered questions and maybe that’s down to my own understanding of the film; but that’s what makes this a gem for it allows the audience to take what you will and make your own theories. We’re fed clues along the way as the squad make their own discoveries and encounters; some very unpleasant, as we get a picture of what might have happened to those who ventured there before. But we share this journey with the squad, learning what they know as they push forward.
The production as a whole is done convincingly well with strong and mesmerising visual effects, but much of it all feels very familiar which is quite possibly down to the story itself. It’s the score and sound engineering that really brings this to life having quite a contrasting soundtrack of comforting acoustic guitars to be sounded out by powerful, daunting sound effects; that deep vibrant humming that reminds me of Arrival and a little bit of Close Encounters of the Third.
Much like what they uncover, the film is a mingling of sorts, like a giant Petri dish with a biology experiment gone terribly wrong. It strangely reminded me of Event Horizon, The Astronaut’s Wife and Aronofsky’s The Fountain. It’s brilliant shot, sliced together and hinged with an abstruse story makes this a captivating science fiction thriller.
Running Time: 8
The Cast: 8
Job Description: 9
The Extra Bonus Point: 0