Five female military scientists enter a zone that is continuously growing more and more with each passing day. They must find a way to stop it, while at the same time defending themselves against the horrors created by the zone.
Alex Garland, the director of “Ex Machina,” brings forth his talents to this. Though sadly, I think those talents diminished. I was a little hyped for this seeing that Garland is the director and seeing the first trailer that came out. But it just didn’t live up to it.
First up the positives, the visuals in this were very nice, pretty, and it had a dream-like feel to it. The zone, The Shimmer as its called in the movie, has a wavy barrier that is constantly shifting/moving with rainbow colors. The environment within the Shimmer was interesting to look at. There are areas of bright, vivid colors coming from plant life. At one point, there are trees near the third act that look like they’re made entirely of crystal, which was very cool. There is one scene which depicts a dead soldier who was on a previous expedition in the Shimmer. The soldier’s body is distorted and it looks like he exploded in a glorious, fungi flower attached to the wall. It looks like it came right from a painting.
Learning about the effects of what the zone is doing to the environment was interesting and the movie does have a sense of mystery to it. It keeps you a bit invested in what the reasoning of all of this is. In fact, the mystery of the situation is still a mystery once the film is finished. It leaves many for interpretations for why the Shimmer came to Earth and it’s reasoning for the changing the world around. Now who is causing it are aliens who look like Gort from “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” The films showed whose causing it, but it doesn’t delve into why they are doing this.
The climax of the film was quite the trip. The visuals were all over the place and it reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The visuals, along with the electronic music, gives the scene a trance-like state and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it.
As I said the mystery in the movie is there, to which it does offer some creepiness and suspense in a few scenes. One scene that I really love involved the disfigured bear. There wasn’t any jump scares in it and it was all quiet. It was very unsettling with the bear being inches away from the female scientists and the fact that it’s roaring sound like a distorted woman screaming.
The movie uses good subtly in a couple noteworthy scenes. First one involved the dead soldier. Before, there was a video depicting the soldier in pain and what he was going through. The next scene we see the end result of what happened to him. I like that there wasn’t anyone saying that this was the same soldier. There were clues in the video that indicated it was the same guy. Another scene depicts Natalie Portman’s character drinking water and there is no blood. This is a reference early on when his husband, Oscar Isaac, drinks water and there is blood. This is an indication of who is infected or not.
Now onto the negatives, the biggest problem I have is the characters. They are not terrible, they are just not interesting enough. There isn’t enough characterization to make the characters unique. Portman’s character gets development during her expedition in the Shimmer, but the subplot involving her cheating on her husband was unnecessary for me. There is the one character, Gina Rodriguez, who of course believes that the previous groups went crazy and that’s it. She goes crazy herself out of nowhere.
Most of the performances were good, but the acting from the leader of the group, Jennifer Jason Leigh, was the worst. She delivers a monotone and bland performance with very little range in her voice.
The pacing, for the most part, was pretty slow and tends to drag at certain portions of the movie. I feel like it should have maybe done more with the environment, particularly in animal life. There are only three animals depicted in here and it makes the zone itself feel empty. There are points where the pacing goes a bit quick. There was the female soldier who went crazy and there’s another female soldier, Tessa Thompson, who all of a sudden gets infected by the Shimmer. There was no indication earlier that she had plants growing on her body. There was another scene that didn’t involve the pacing, but the editing. The female scientists hear something outside of the fort barrier. Then out of nowhere with no buildup, the mutated bear attacks one of the scientists.
The climax itself has a couple issues that I can say. The visuals, while pretty and fun to look at, the set designs could use more originality. Especially in the main alien hideout where it reminds me of a lot of the sets from the movies “Alien” or “Aliens.” It looks very H. R. Giger like. The climax also does drag when Portman is dealing with her doppelganger and it could have easily been shortened.
After the ending, the movie leaves one with many interpretations of how they see the movie. While for me it does warrant some thinking of what the purpose was for the aliens and their reasoning for changing Earth, but it doesn’t warrant a lot seeing that characters, narrative structure, and pacing bring this movie down sadly. It’s a shame because there is something good trying to get out, but it doesn’t come through all the way. Garland is an interesting director and I’m curious about what his next project is.