On February 23, writer-director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) returns to screens with Annihilation, the highly anticipated adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s sci-fi novel about a group of women who venture off on a dangerous expedition inside a mysterious location called “The Shimmer,” which seems to be swallowing up every person sent inside.
Starring Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac, Annihilation is a brainy sci-fi movie that is both beautiful and disturbing, with an ending you will talk about for days. With advance tickets now on sale for Annihilation here at Fandango, we spoke exclusively with Alex Garland about the film and its otherworldly setting that is unlike any we’ve seen before.
“The film is like a journey from an objective state to a subjective state,” Garland said. “So another way of putting it, and the way we used to talk about it when we were shooting it is that it’s a journey from suburbia to psychedelia. And to an extent, it’s about why we behave the way we do, and what changes about us.”
Watch an exclusive clip below.
Fandango: What intrigued you about Annihilation enough to want to make this your next film after Ex Machina?
Alex Garland: Oh, just I read the book. It got sent to me by one of the producers, and I read it, and it was just extraordinarily original, and I don’t often feel that. Like, that kind of sheer originality is just not usually what one encounters, so there was that. It just felt very fresh and very different. And as well as that the atmosphere, [which was] incredibly strong, really stayed with me. It was those two things, I think, originality and atmosphere.
Fandango: When you’re reading a book like that, did you come across a certain scene or a moment that really hit home for you? Where you’re like, “Now, I have to make this.”
Garland: Not really, no. It’s more a vibe, it’s more like a general vibe, so it’s not like this cool character beat happens, or this cool plot device happened — it’s just like, how did it make me feel? And I think with that book, I didn’t really know where I was, and I like that feeling, and like I said, it’s unusual. I think with a lot of stories, you can anticipate often quite accurately where they’re gonna go next. In Annihilation, I just felt every page was like virgin territory.
Fandango: You’ve said that working on this film was a very intense experience for you, and that making it was like being in it, and I was curious, how so?
Garland: I think it may be a product of the fact that the source material is so unlike anything else. Often when you’re telling a story you can fall back on some familiar patterns to help you through some difficult stuff. You know? Archetype characters, archetype stories. I mean, which if you were being less polite, you might call cliché characters or cliché stories, and Annihilation doesn’t give you any of those comforts. You’re in a kind of state of learning and invention the whole time, and so, you’re in the same sort of drifting anchorless world with the book.
Fandango: Once we’re inside The Shimmer, it’s unlike any otherworldly destination that we’ve seen previously. What was most important to you in terms of creating this place?
Garland: That it would be simultaneously beautiful and disturbing.
Fandango: Along those lines, in the clip that we’re debuting with this conversation (watch it above), we see what appears to be a bear attack, but this isn’t a normal bear. How would you describe what’s happening to the animals and the people who venture into The Shimmer?
Garland: There’s a kind of simple idea at the heart of it, and it’s like when few bits of light are being put through a prism and it refracts into these different wavelengths, so you get a rainbow color. There’s a kind of generalized refraction and collision of things within this space, and so it is affecting light, and it’s also affecting people, and plants, and animals, and psychology. It’s like a generalized refraction and splitting and collision and reconstituting, so it’s something like that.
Fandango: You collaborated with director Danny Boyle on a number of movies prior to directing your own, and that relationship produced some great movies, like The Beach, Sunshine and 28 Days Later. How did those experiences with him helped influence you as a director?
Garland: Well, when I started working in film about 20-something years ago, Danny was the director I worked with prior, and at that point I really didn’t know anything about film or how films were made, and I was completely green really. And so, Danny and Andrew Macdonald, the producer, in a kind of direct way were the first … they were sort of like my schooling in filmmaking. We have things in common, we got things that are different, but really, it was just part of a huge education, those two people.
Fandango: Speaking of influences, did you have any main influences for you on this film? Were you watching anything or reading anything that sort of helped inspire moments or looks or characters?
Garland: I think influences are a kind of a strange thing in a way because, usually, the real influence is one that you don’t know about. Like, it’s quite easy to name check a bunch of stuff and say, “These are the influences.” But in a funny way, they’re not. It’s often just a list of films you like or books you like that may or may not have some kind of connection with what you’re making. And then a year later somebody says, “That scene, it really reminds me of … ” and then they’ll mention some film that you’d never even thought of, and you realize, “Oh, sh*t, yeah, that’s exactly what it is. I had kind of unconsciously lifted or been influenced by that thing.” So, I’m a little bit suspicious of whatever I would say, but there were lots of things that I could consciously say. I think one of them, for example, is Apocalypse Now, and Annihilation is a movie that is like a journey through a landscape that’s getting progressively surreal, and that is also essentially what Apocalypse Now is. And so, there were things like that sort of reference points I guess.
Fandango: What do you want audiences talking about as they walk out of the theater after seeing this film?
Garland: What I’d really hope for in an ideal world is that they go into the film with an open mind, and then there are things that it provokes to think about, or discuss, or argue about. And so, it’s not just pure visceral entertainment, but it has some kind of subtext and something to stay with and stay alive, I suppose, in the mind.
Annihilation hits theaters on February 23. You can snag your tickets right here on Fandango.