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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Annihilation

“The Lodgers” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The high concept pitch to the studio for “Annihilation” must have been something like: It’s “Legend” meets “The Blair Witch Project” with a dash of “The Descent” and some heady “2001: A Space Odyssey”-esque sci fi thrown in. Or, that’s how I would have pitched it. I’ll unpack these references later for those who may be unfamiliar.

“Annihilation” stars Natalie Portman as Lena, an ex-Army soldier who now works in the private sector teaching biology at Johns Hopkins. The movie is her story, told in flashback to a very inquisitive man in a hazmat suit (Benedict Wong). Seems that Lena is the lone survivor of an expedition to explore a strange phenomenon that’s appeared over a wooded area, which has been dubbed “The Shimmer.”

After her still in the Army husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) comes back from a previous expedition to The Shimmer and is not right, he and Lena are hauled off at gun point to a military installation called “Area X,” which is juxtaposed to The Shimmer. Wanting to find out what her husband experienced and hopefully get information that can help him, she joins up with a team who is about to head in. This team is headed by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and features a helpful array of clinical and practical knowledge, including physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), anthropologist Cassie Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), and paramedic and Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez). Adding biologist Lena to the team just makes sense.

Once inside The Shimmer, the usual laws of nature are thrown out the window. The team enters into a fantasy zone of thick, lush, green woods with beautiful flowers and creatures—as well as some monstrously scary ones. This is the “Legend” aspect of the movie. Compasses don’t work and they’re essentially lost in the woods, following a map to get from one land mark to the next (“Blair Witch”).

Being scientists, time is taken for examination and discussion of the flora they encounter. The same tree produces multiple types of flowers and branches grow into the shape of humans. How is this possible? They explain and analyze, making parts of “Annihilation” a bit of a slow burn. I like that the movie takes the time to allow us to experience what we’re seeing and ruminate on it ourselves, which reminded me of “2001” in its imagination and thoughtfulness.

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Then there is the most obvious feature about “Annihilation,” which is where the dash of “The Descent” comes into play: They’re all women. It’s tempting to gravitate toward this point, but as Dr. Radek swiftly points out in an early scene, the true common factor is that they’re all scientists. That’s what really counts. This team was chosen because they are the most qualified available scientists to go on the expedition. The fact that they’re all women is incidental, as it should be. They earned their position on the team for what’s in their heads, not what’s between their legs. This is how hiring should be done, and I applaud writer/director Alex Garland (adapting a novel by Jeff VanderMeer) for quickly, yet correctly, pointing this out.

That said, the female aspect of “Annihilation” is consistently reinforced through yonic imagery, particularly toward the end where Lena goes into an opening and follows a tunnel into cave. It’s not even the least bit subtle. But after everything else that comes before that moment, it doesn’t have to be. Rent it.

More New Releases: “The Lodgers,” about twins in a crumbling Irish estate who have strict rules enforced upon them every night by a sinister presence.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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