Annihilation (spoiler free)

This movie is one of those that immediately snagged my interest from the very first time I saw the teaser trailer. Natalie Portman in a suspenseful sci-fi type movie? Sign me up! On top of that was the fact that this is the second movie by director Alex Garland (also directed Ex Machina which I really enjoyed) I was no doubt very excited to get to the theater to see this one.

Now I really will do my best to avoid any spoilers here since I think the story is a big strength. I also have not read the book this film is based on so I cannot say how closely it follows. Basically there is an area called “The Shimmer” that is gradually increasing its radius indefinitely. Very little is known about whats lies inside the boundary since no one seems to make it back out once they venture in. All that is known is there is a lighthouse that seems to be the origin for this abnormality.  Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biologist and professor who volunteers for an expedition inside The Shimmer with a team consisting of a physicist, an anthropologist, a paramedic, and a psychiatrist. Once inside The Shimmer the team seems to find more questions than answers: electronic equipment issues, memory lapses, unknown wildlife and plant life that seems to violate the natural laws. What is The Shimmer? What happened to the previous teams? How do they stop The Shimmer from encapsulating the entire world? Their mission to find the lighthouse and stop The Shimmer from expanding is not an easy one and we are just strapped in for the ride.

There is an abundance of strengths here. Natalie Portman delivers a terrific performance. She is strong, smart and very believable as she displays a full range of emotions, nailing every one of them. The director, Alex Garland, is truly gifted and his storytelling is compelling and keeps you invested to the very end. I really enjoyed the suspense throughout the film and he did a fantastic job sprinkling in with some genuinely terrifying scenes. I found myself on the edge of my seat for the majority of the film. This movie also happens to be gorgeous to look at. The world inside the Shimmer is full of wonder and beauty but, at times, also pure horror. Mrs. Apologist really enjoyed the science aspect as well.

Not too much to complain about in this one. Despite having a pretty good pace, I thought it was just a hair too long at 115 minutes. Especially towards the end it sort of drags out some scenes in an attempt to really set the tone. Another small issue was that  they don’t really go into many details with the science aspect of things, so it can be a little confusing. Another possible drawback is that there are some pretty gruesome scenes that may be too intense for some viewers.

Even though I felt it was slightly on the long side, I really enjoyed the movie as a whole. It was nice to have a different genre of movie choice from the usual lot of comedies and super hero flicks. I don’t have much of an expertise or background in science, but that did not stop me from having a great experience. The story had me hooked from the first scene and the suspense definitely kicked my heart rate into overdrive on several occasions. Portman delivers one of the strongest performances of 2018 so far and Alex Garland proves he has top notch skills as a director despite his short portfolio. Annihilation has set the bar fairly high for movies in 2018 with a well deserved 1 Apology. Check it out if you enjoy suspense and/or science fiction.

-Movie Apologist

IT (2017)

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: remakes can be extremely difficult to pull off successfully. That is especially true when talking about something that has such a cult following like Stephen King’s It (1990). With such a well respected performance by Tim Curry it is easy to see that it was going to be a tough act to follow. Before going to see IT I was very excited since the previews were some of the best in recent memory but there was also a little doubt creeping in since there were several horror movies that had built up too much hype before being massive let downs.

I’ll try to give out some basic details of the plot without giving too much away. The story is set in Derry, Maine in the late 80’s as school is beginning to let out for summer. There have been increasing reports of missing children. Bill and his group of friends Richie, Eddie, Stanley are trying to figure out where the kids are going and avoid being harassed by the school bully Henry too much. As the summer progresses the group gains a few more misfits with the additions of Mike, Beverly, and new kid Ben. Each of the kids has begun to see scary visions and apparitions which all seem to be connected to the same creature known as Pennywise the Clown.  As they dive deeper into their investigation of the missing children they seem to find more questions than answers.

This remake does have several strengths to its credit. The main group of kids played by Jaeden Liberher (Bill), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben) Sophia Lillis (Bev), Finn Wolfhard (Richie), Chosen Jacobs (Mike), Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie), and Wyatt Oleff (Stanley) all deliver terrific performances as grade school kids who are on a terrifying journey. They show a wide range of emotions throughout the film. Another standout is Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise. There were massive shoes to fill (ha) from the great Tim Curry but he definitely delivered a high quality portrayal. He is both funny and also fairly chilling in his interpretation of the role. I thought the pacing of the movie was another strength. The movie has a 135 minute run time but it zips right along moving from scene to scene and fright to fright. Those frights are indeed another strong point here compared to the last few horror/suspense movies I have watched recently. There is a good balance between suspenseful scares and the more traditional jump scares that had Mrs. Apologist watching from behind her own fingers.

There were not very many weaknesses but IT was definitely far from a perfect movie. I did happen to think that some of the scares were predictable. Some of the story also followed that same predictability but that is easy to do when dealing with a remake. While there were mostly high quality scares there were also a handful that just didn’t work out and came off as cheesy which almost brought down the entire creepy vibe the movie worked so hard to establish.

Remakes can be a very tricky bunch, especially when the first version was well received and generally well reviewed. Expectations that are built up pretty high can sometimes lead to big time letdown but luckily for us this movie packed enough of a punch to keep us entertained for the night. If you’re in the mood for some scares and don’t mind some occasional gruesome violence then I would recommend checking out 2017’s version of IT with a very respectable 2 Apologies.

-Movie Apologist