Why You Should Be Paying Attention To The Mysterious ‘Annihilation’

Watch the first trailer for the Natalie Portman-starring sci-fi horror

You’d be forgiven if you watched the new trailer for Annihilation, and immediately asked yourself what the hell is going on. Based on the short teaser, it looks like a cross between Predator and What Dreams May Come? There’s Natalie Portman, along with a team of heavily armed scientists, venturing off into sublime dreamscapes only to be hunted down by some... thing. So allow us to shed some—but not too much—light on this very intriguing project.

The first thing you need to know about Annihilation is that it is Alex Garland’s long-awaited follow-up to the surprise hit Ex Machina. Garland had been writing movies before he tried his hand at directing with the 2014 artificial intelligence thriller. With it, though, he proved that he can do dark and brainy sci-fi with the best of them, and Annihilation looks like a giant step further down that path. The second thing you need to know is that it’s based on the first book of the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, the other two being Authority and Acceptance.

The trailer opens with Portman and her all-female crew (we see you Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson) trekking toward what looks like some kind of alternate dimension which they enter by walking through some floating, translucent goop. The ominous music and hesitance on their faces (and the giant guns they’re carrying) means they’re headed for trouble, and they know it. This mysterious place is called Area X, “an uninhabited and abandoned section of the United States that nature has begun to reclaim.” (Thanks, Wikipedia!). Portman plays a biologist whose husband (Oscar Isaac) disappeared on his own expedition to Area X, only to be hospitalized upon his return. To find out what happened to him, she heads inside this mysterious zone, only to be confronted with by strange creatures and landscapes. 

And in case you’re wondering how something that’s supposed to be threatening can look so beautiful, that apparently is the whole point. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Garland said that “the beauty part of it was quite important. Even when it’s grim, and something dark is happening, there’s quite an overt beauty, and we took pains to make sure that happened.”

Watch the trailer, above, and check out Annihilation in theaters on February 23.