VanderMeer writes for Weird Fiction Review that Area X is based on his annual hikes through the refuge: “It is a landscape and a series of transitional ecosystems that have enchanted me, fascinated me, and at times scared me. I’ve seen a Florida panther in that place, and turned a corner right into the gaze of a bobcat, been charged by a wild boar, seen dolphins swimming up the brackish marsh canals at high tide, and had to jump over an alligator on a raised path with water on either side. It’s a place where you need to live in the moment, and yet can also, by doing so, be transported deep into memory and catharsis.’’
Though filmmaker Alex Garland had wanted to use the St. Mark’s Refuge to shoot Annihilation, early screen tests revealed that the vegetation was so thick it caused a loss of depth perception on film.
“In a way it’s good the movie wasn’t shot on location,” VanderMeer told the Tampa Bay Times. “The wilderness here is so fragile. That area I love is so environmentally sensitive.”
Production was later moved to the south of England, but anyone can easily visit the inspiration for Area X by stopping at St. Mark’s Refuge. Established in 1931 as a winter habitat for migratory birds, it’s one of the oldest National Wildlife Refuges in the country and claims 43 miles of shore on Florida’s northwest coast. There’s a diverse array of plant and wildlife thanks to the several different habitats, including swamps, pine forests, coastal marshes, and estuaries. Download the Audubon Bird Guide before hitting the woods.