Culture

'Annihilation' Trailer Debuts Skeletal Monster Hunting Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez

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Natalie Portman as The Biologist in the 'Annihilation' December trailer. Paramount Pictures

A thrilling new trailer for Alex Garland's sci-fi film Annihilation dropped on Wednesday, fleshing out the horrors to come in 2018.

Before you watch, imagine the apocalypse most likely to end humanity. Who will fight on the front-lines against death: soldiers, politicians, militia?

Like the 1986 sci-fi classic Alien, Annhiliation supposes the answer is women. And like last year's Arrival, it suggests that those women will be scientists—in this case, biologists as well as anthropologists and psychologists. What they share is an implicit understanding of gender discrimination—they are all professionals who have been forced to take a backseat to men—and the generation of new life.

Annihilation is based on the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer's mysterious sci-fi thrillers. Before writing the novels, VanderMeer was a part of a specific circle of novelists focusing on disturbing their readers. He made a name for himself among fans of small-press sci-fi, but he also wrote for Dark Horse Comics on Predator tie-in comics.

Though Annihilation, published in 2014, is slightly more accessible than VanderMeer's earlier work, it's still as purposefully opaque and discomfiting as a best-selling novel can be. All the characters, including the women played by Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok) and Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), are identified simply by their job descriptions. We never learn Portman's character's name beyond The Biologist, which gives VanderMeer's story the tone of a case-study.

The trailer shows the female scientists passing through the shimmering curtain of Area X, where 11 teams have already ventured, one that included The Bilogist's husband, played by Oscar Isaac; he is the only one from his team to return, and when he does he is deathly ill, with no memory of what happened. A distraught Portman agrees to join the 12th, all-female team, and you see the world beyond the curtain—a place of exquisite beauty, filled with bizarre flora and fauna mutations, and at least two deadly predators. Garland, who directed 28 Days Later, among other films, is a deft hand at suspense, and the trailer offers plenty of that.

annihilation The women of "Annihilation": an unnamed biologist (Natalie Portman), a surveyor (Tessa Thompson), a psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and an anthropologist (Gina Rodriguez). Paramount Pictures

Like Alien or The Descent (a 2005 all-female horror film which still holds the record for most onscreen dialogue said by women to women), Annihilation focuses the next stage of life. The creatures in the novel don't necessarily want to destroy; they want to stay alive and incorporate humanity's biology with their own. That focus on new life, as opposed to pure death, is a hallmark of female-focused science fiction. In the trailer, Portman's character exclaims, "It's not destroying, it's making something new."

Rather than have Portman run from the Predator (the one we see has a passing resemblance to the predators of Alien), Annihilation has her grapple with the questions posed often by sci-fi author Octavia Butler: What if aliens want to combine our genetics and create a new race—perhaps a better race—composed of the two? And how far will humanity go to save themselves?

Annihilation hits theaters February 23.

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