Based on Jeff VanDerMeers’ novel, this sci-fi odyssey has the Earth facing yet another alien threat. Little green men from outer space? Nope. Killer Klowns? Uh-uh. An interstellar spore smashes into an East Coast lighthouse and, well, things haven’t quite been the same since. These mutating thingamabobs have taken over a portion of a coastline with a shimmering alien border (called ‘the Shimmer”) that once you go in, you don’t come out. Sorta like going through the Stargate, but you’re still on Earth… sorta. Inside the Shimmer, everything’s been either mutated or altered and the military is worried because the Shimmer is growing larger every month.
There’s a surprise reappearance by a confused and very sick Kane (Oscar Issac), a soldier that vanished inside the Shimmer a year ago, which prompts his brilliant biologist wife, Lena (Natalie Portman) to take steps to find out how her husband returned. Having Army training, Lena joins the military on yet another expedition into the Shimmer and locating ground zero–the lighthouse. The heavily armed all-female team includes: leader Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), physicist Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), doctor Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), and soldier Josie Radek (Gina Rodriguez).
But this ain’t no pajama party as the team goes inside the lush and tropical Shimmer’s world where compasses don’t work, time fluctuates, and the alien spores have taken every living thing and used their DNA to alter it into something new (a gator/shark hybrid anyone?). Now, being that this one of those kind of movies, you know that along the way to the lighthouse the ladies are going to face peril after peril, personal crisis after crisis, discover harrowing clues along the way and, well I’ll just say it, not everyone is gonna come out of this little expedition alive, okay?
Writer/director Alex Garland, who blew audiences away in 2015 with his spell-binding Ex Machina (which he also wrote & directed), strives to repeat his eerie and thought-ripping success again, but falls short. Whereas Ex Machina was all his, this adaptation isn’t. You can see Garland’s hand in every frame: the beautiful cinematography by Rob Hardy, the ping-ponging scenes, the extreme close-ups, his choice of moody, creepy, and unfocused scenes, and a loud thrommmmmmming soundtrack. All this is cool to look at, but it can’t mask the fact the movie plods along at snail’s pace, waiting for something to happen.
The story is borrowed from several others (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Oblivion, Mantango), so the plot isn’t anything new, especially the Twilight Zone-ish finale. Garland, noted for his character studies and how he plays with them, draws it out for long stretches, often with dull dialogue and long walks, peppered with grisly and gruesome shock value jump scares, just to mix things up. At almost two hours, it could have used some trimming, not to mention removing all those gaping plot holes!! Portman does what she can with the source material, and does quite well, given the circumstances.