The Cinematographic References of 'Annihilation'

Annihilation

The creepy, captivating sci-fi film has strands of Andrei Tarkovsky and the ‘Alien’ franchise in its DNA, but here are some influences you might have missed.

Alex Garland’s beautifully uncanny Annihilation (based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer) is a mutant of a movie. On its face, the premise — a team of scientists struggling to survive in a hostile, possibly alien environment simply known as “the Shimmer” — seems like a fairly straightforward grab from the sci-fi action playbook. But their mission quickly spirals into a much more cryptic journey with no clear enemy to defeat. It’s threaded with moments of visceral, gore-splattered horror, yet it also raises more abstract questions regarding the nature of life and identity itself that are left ultimately unresolved. And while the film’s lush, surreal cinematography is undoubtedly one of its most striking elements, it also clearly borrows from earlier sci-fi classics like the films of Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky and the Alien franchise.

That’s not to say that Annihilation is unoriginal. But like the hybrid animals and blossom-sprouting bodies that fill the Shimmer, its dazzling visuals are also a remix of existing creations. A new video from herrozzy provides a side-by-side comparison of memorable shots from Annihilation and scenes from earlier films that they echo (whether intentionally or not), all set to an eerie instrumental track by experimental music producer Arca.

Some parallels are easier to spot — for instance, the screaming bear’s close encounter with Lena (Natalie Portman) bears (no pun intended) a clear resemblance to the scene in which Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) first gets up close and personal with the newborn Xenomorph in Alien 3. Additionally, the way Annihilation‘s narrative filters cosmic mysteries through the lens of human psychological drama is similar to Tarkovsky’s approach in Stalker, and both even focus on the image of bizarrely-behaving water glasses to suggest broader transformations of the universe.

Yet there are more unexpected points of contact as well. The video likens the actual moment of psychologist Dr. Ventress’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) “annihilation” into the Shimmer with the fiery end of Soviet baddie Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) in Steven Spielberg’s largely forgotten extradimensional detour Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The visual similarity seems coincidental but still weirdly intriguing, especially in that it lets viewers compare how the two movies represent human-alien interactions with different kinds of violence. And it positions the blooming golden void of doppelganger-Lena’s genesis sequence in conversation with both Stanley Kubrick’s precise, mandorla-like framing in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the transcendent scope of Darren Aronofsky’s romantic epic The Fountain. 

To be sure, the shots highlighted here are a tightly curated selection — the video itself clocks in at less than two minutes — but they’re nevertheless enough to make us consider how Annihilation’s themes of recombination and renewal are embedded in its visuals themselves.

Watch the video below to get a glimpse of Annihilation’s cinematic homages.

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Aline is a writer and student. She is very passionate about campy period dramas, female-driven horror films, and obscure Star Wars lore.