I finished the Jeff VanderMeer science-fiction/horror novel Annihilation last month; the movie opens this week. [No spoilers below, by the way.] I’d seen the trailer for the movie online and was intrigued by the “BASED ON THE ACCLAIMED BEST-SELLING NOVEL” title that flashes across the screen, so I put the novel on hold at the library. (I’d not heard of it previously.) My verdict, now that I’ve read it? If the movie Annihilation is anything like the novel Annihilation, it will be STRANGE.
The novel begins in medias res as a team of four women—each unidentified, except for her title: psychologist, anthropologist, surveyor, and our narrator the team biologist—begin to explore a wild coastal wilderness known as Area X. Area X is beyond a mysterious border that requires the women to have been hypnotized to pass through it; the team’s mission is to research the area and report back to some mysterious agency called The Southern Reach. Almost immediately, the team stumbles across a mysterious underground “tower,” the top of which begins at the earth’s surface. The entrance leads to a spiral staircase that continues underground. The team explores the tower, and below ground, in the dark, they discover a long stream of words running along the wall. The string begins
Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that….
The biologist comes close to the words and discovers that they are in fact a living organism or organisms, perhaps some type of fungus. They return to the surface, and strange things begin to happen.
Or, at least, strange things are implied and occasionally shown. The strangeness of the novel slowly increases the more you read, because the characters in the midst of the strangeness don’t seem to be overly bothered by it, which I take is the effect the author was going for: the very fact that everyone in Area X takes its increasing weirdness in stride is a clue to us that the entire situation is uncanny. We wonder, What’s wrong with these women? Why is our narrator so matter-of-fact in describing a situation that is so utterly bizarre?
The novel in fact is so bizarre that I finished it and had to ask myself, What was this about?
Now, you should know that almost none of the scenes in the movie trailer is actually in the novel, but if you’re planning on seeing it, expect it to be weird. And let me know if you figure it out.