Alex Garland’s newest film Annihilation offers a psychedelic sci-fi tale, and even if the story offers up some measure of closure, the door’s still wide open for a sequel.
Spoilers follow for Annihilation and the books in the Southern Reach Trilogy.
Annihilation follows an all-female squad of researchers into a mysterious supernatural area in Florida created by an asteroid that struck somewhere near the coast. Soldier-scientist Lena (Natalie Portman) joins up hoping to learn the truth about what happened to her husband when he went on a similar expedition inside.
Totally insane things happen as Lena makes her way to the epicenter of the phenomenon, and even though she seemingly destroys the Shimmer in the end, the finale still hints at more to come.
Does Annihilation leave room for a sequel? Definitely. But will it actually happen? There’s a chance, especially with more books available for adaptation, but it’ll have to look very different from this first movie.
By the end of Annihilation, we learn that some kind of alien organism crash-landed in Area X, giving birth to the Shimmer. The growing force field acts as a prism to everything, meaning that every bit of matter, energy, and even light that enters Area X gets refracted seemingly at random. This causes mutations that lead to creature human-shaped trees, gators with shark teeth, and even a faceless bear that can mimic a human’s voice. That’s just the beginning.
When Lena does finally make it to the lighthouse — which is the epicenter of the whole phenomenon — she confronts a bizarre alien mimic creature adapted from raw matter, one that seemingly can’t be killed.
When Lena gently hands the creature a phosphorous grenade, the creature seemingly burns up in a few short minutes, and with it, the lighthouse and every trace of the Shimmer’s presence in the local wildlife.
For all intents and purposes, Lena has destroyed the Shimmer and saved the world. The threat is over — except it probably isn’t.
Back at the compound, Lena’s husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) regains his health. When they reunite, he admits that he doesn’t think he’s the original Kane. We saw one Kane commit suicide in the lighthouse via phosphorous grenade. Instead, this one’s a doppelganger created by the Shimmer. If he/it can survive its destruction, then it’s possible that even Lena isn’t the original.
As they reunite, we see both of their eyes swirl from the effect of the Shimmer. The Shimmer itself might be gone, but their DNA still seemingly carries the effects.
The more they interact — and infect — physical matter around them, the more these kinds of mutations might grow.
For all we know, each of them could become a new epicenter for a Shimmer in the sequel, or maybe the Shimmer becomes more about a contagion infecting everyone rather than a shimmering force field.
Director Garland has no interest in doing sequels. “I actively do not want to be in the same world I just spent three years in,” Garland told Coming Soon. “I actively want to do something else, so the whole idea of sequels is not one that appeals to me in the slightest.”
He might not come back for a sequel, but Paramount Pictures could build a franchise with other filmmakers.
Jeff VanderMeer, who wrote the novel Annihilation is based on — along with two sequels — called Garland’s film “a very liberal adaptation,” which means that we can’t really use the books as a roadmap for how future movies might turn out. But they still offer a loose examination of where the story might go.
The second book focuses more on the organization investigating the Shimmer inside Area X, which is called the Southern Reach agency, and its main character is Ventress’s replacement as the leader. The Shimmer is very much intact there, and eventually, aspects of time travel even factor into the narrative.
Ultimately, a sequel doesn’t seem likely. Annihilation saw a very limited global release that lead to a small box office opening. So it looks like Paramount Pictures might have already given up on its new franchise — before it’s even started.
At least Alex Garland has another brilliant sci-fi story in his body of work.
Annihilation is currently in theaters.