I know it is still April as I post this. I was unable to watch the club’s April Movie pick (Paddington 2) due to covid-19 related restrictions, so I went ahead and reviewed May’s instead. (I hope to watch and review Paddington 2 at some point in the future.)
Released 2018 – Run Time 1 hour 55 minutes
Directed by: Alex Garland
Written by: Alex Garland, based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer
Starring: Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Issac, Tessa Thompson, David Gyasi, Benedict Wong
2?? Or 3?? stars out of 4
Viewing Notes: Fairly excellent viewing conditions on home screen, although I did watch this during the day so there was a bit of light interference. Also, having read that this was a scary movie, I deliberately turned the volume slightly lower than usual, since I don’t like jumping at loud unexpected noises. This was my first viewing of this film.
I have not read the novel.
This film is rated R in some countries. (For language, violence, bloody images and a bit of sexuality) In Canada, it has a 14A rating. I found it to be not as bad as I feared it might be in terms of gore, although there is one scene in particular that might make people who don’t like the sight of (fake) blood quite uncomfortable.
The trailer I saw for this meditative science-fiction story would have been more honest if it had shown people talking and walking slowly through jungle, rather than promoting the relatively few monster-attack scenes.
There was a dreamy, cool, sort of detached feeling to this film for me, enhanced by the soundtrack and the relatively un-emotive style of much of the cast for much of the movie. (And possibly also enhanced by my having the sound turned down.)
I believe this was filmed in Florida, with the swamp-jungle receiving CGI enhancement to create strange plants and creatures, as a team of scientist-warriors enter a zone known as “The Shimmer” – an expanding area into which people (including Portman’s character’s husband) have gone to explore before, but only Portman’s character’s husband (played by Oscar Issac) has ever returned, and he is not doing very well. Not very well at all. The Shimmer has grown outward from a lighthouse, which seems to have been struck by… something, probably alien. The scientific team, which the film makers could not, unfortunately, hold back from pointing out, even though they ‘try’ to do it in a backwards sort of way, is all female. (They could have just let it be all female and never said anything about it.) The team is tasked to reach the lighthouse and try to report back to the world outside the mysterious zone on what they find. The world fears that if The Shimmer continues its expansion, it will eventually annihilate everything in the world (sort of) as we know it.
And so, on the surface of this film, it is a sort of first-contact story, with strange intriguing plant growths, and critters occasionally leaping out at our heroes, as they try to fulfill their mission. Clearly some people had fun imagining and rendering various rather strange life forms. The moss/lichen/mold stuff is pretty.
Unfortunately, this also turns out to be an “intellectual” film, which wants us to think about things, too – is it all an analogy about cancer? Corruption? Society and change? Death and how we respond to its inevitability? Is it actually about marriage? Is the ‘alien presence’ trying to destroy, or is it just trying to create something new? If it’s ‘just trying to create something new’ – is this supposed to be a political statement of some kind? I dunno, and frankly, I don’t much care, and you going on about it is sort of annoying, especially since you keep seeming to change your mind. As I’ve written before, if you want to get all obviously philosophical in your films, fantastic, I’m glad that works for you and some of your viewers – but don’t let it get in the way of a fun story, please.
Unfortunately there is little humour in this film, although there are a few glimmers of humorous possibility – I quite enjoyed the little throw away scene where one of the team is excited to find a big gun and then, as she picks it up, discovers that it’s too heavy for her to consider carrying. That little scene felt both animated and true.
Issac and Portman are good together, and I thought most of the cast did well, particularly I enjoyed Tuva Novotny’s relatively small role, I don’t remember seeing her before, but she seems like a natural for ‘heroic’ roles.
The film also makes ample use of flashback, including flashbacks within flashbacks, which I didn’t have any trouble following, but some might. A few CGI effects didn’t work for me although mostly it looked good. (I remain not a huge fan of CGI in general.)
I wanted to like this film more than I ultimately did. It obviously had some interesting ideas and an interesting vision behind it, but perhaps it’s one of those stories that will always be best read and imagined individually, rather than filmed. I already had the book on my lengthy library book wish list, and having seen this movie, I’m keeping it there.
I was sorry that Novotny’s character was the first one to die. I wanted to hear how to tell which way was south with a watch again.
On several occasions, I was baffled by the laxness of the characters while they were supposedly standing watch, and when entering buildings. It seems to me, for e.g., while wandering about in a strange jungle with giant attack alligators and who knows what else, upon entering a building with an upper floor, you should take your guns and search the upper floor before camping downstairs for the night. Portman’s character is supposed to be ex-military, you would think this would happen – and you also expect that when it doesn’t, there would be repercussions, but there aren’t. Perhaps this is because this isn’t really an action-adventure-sci-fi, but a psychological study of some rather baffling-to-obvious-statement-is-obvious sort. (Hey, guess what, after you cheat on your partner, your relationship changes!) There were also a few character back-story revelations for the secondary members of the team that seemed a bit clunky to me.
While the attack bear who speaks was a whacked out cool idea, I was somewhat disappointed that at no point does the team encounter an attack plant of some kind. Why couldn’t they have come across a poison-spitting petunia or something? And I was also hoping for a giant squid sighting once they hit the coast near the lighthouse.
And what is wrong with having an alien presence/life form that does not take humanoid form? I realize there was something philosophical going on with the doubling/reacting of the alien life towards the end of the movie, and it was kinda cool, but I think it would have been better in some ways if there hadn’t been a humanoid iteration of the life force. It was also unclear to me why setting the humanoid thing on fire would cause everything in The Shimmer to die/disappear – okay, so it’s all connected in an alien web of life or something – but then why does the probably-alien returned husband not also disappear? Again, the answer probably lies in the thought “this is really intended as a study of human mind, not a study of human kind and alien kind.” And I’m just not a super-fan of sitting around discussing the meaning of life and stuff.
My star rating system asks me to “want to see this movie again” in order to give a 3 out of 4 rating. I’m not sure I feel a need to see this movie again, but I wouldn’t object to seeing it again.
P.S. – Is Oscar Issac trying for 100 film roles before he’s 50, or does it just seem like it?
Read reviews from other club members here:
Bee’s Review and Dolby’s Review