Annihilation | Natalie Portman sci-fi thriller gives us startling images and plenty to ponder

Annihilation Natalie Portman Lena

Fear What’s Inside.

Like the recent Ghostbusters remake but without the laughs, Alex Garland’s existential sci-fi horror thriller Annihilation pitches an all-female team of heroines into some freaky paranormal encounters.

Indeed, things are deadly serious, and more than a little perplexing, when Natalie Portman’s army veteran turned Ivy League biology professor and her four colleagues – hard-bitten military psychologist Jennifer Jason Leigh, Cambridge physicist Tessa Thompson, anthropologist Tuva Novotny and gutsy paramedic Gina Rodriguez – head into the so-called Shimmer, a strange zone on the American coastline where a baffling extraterrestrial event has occurred.

No one entering it has returned – save for Portman’s soldier husband (Oscar Isaac). And he has been left a husk of his former self by his inexplicable experiences inside.

What follows is mind-bogglingly weird as the team discovers a landscape full of bizarrely mutated flora and fauna. Are the same cellular changes happening to them? Garland’s follow-up to 2014’s chilly sci-fi fable Ex Machina starts off slowly but becomes more scary and suspenseful as it goes along, although there are stretches where it owes more to Tarkovsky’s art-house classic Stalker than it does to author Jeff VanderMeer’s award-winning source novel.

Still, Garland gives us some startling images and plenty of interesting ideas to ponder. And it’s good for a change to see oestrogen-fuelled heroics in a sci-fi movie rather than the genre’s usual machismo.

Annihilation is available on Netflix from 12 March.