We follow the story of a biologist named Lena (Natalie Portman), who’s spent the last year mourning the mysterious disappearance of her solider husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), who vanished along with his team in a classified mission she knows nothing about. Or at least she didn’t until, out of the blue, Kane shows back up at her doorstep. His arrival leads Lena down a dark path, and she finds herself taken in by the organisation he works for, led by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). It’s here Lena learns of a mysterious sealed off area of unknown origins known as ‘The Shimmer,’ of which her husband is the only known survivor. Lena, Ventress and a team of scientists embark on an expedition inside, desperate to seek the truth of this potentially dangerous environment.
It’s a film heavy in its ideas but also effective in execution, constantly creating this lingering sense of intrigue and terror. I certainly have my interpretation of what went down, but whether or not that theory is shared with others remains to be seen. Garland’s script is wildly ambitious in every sense of the word. It’s a conversation starter with multiple interpretations and no definite answers. He brings up the questions; we provide the answers. The third act takes this story to another level entirely, and that’s when its ever-present themes are fully realised and my admiration for the film grew even stronger. The final scene is one people are no doubt going to be talking about for years.
But as good as this screenplay is, it’s the whole craft that comes together to create something powerful, hypnotic, haunting and gorgeous. Rob Hardy’s cinematography mixes paralysing, psychedelic shots with visuals that will shake you to your core. A sequence with a bear is utterly unnerving, perfected by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s ever present score that takes on a whole new level of brilliance in the third act. Natalie Portman is sensational as Lena, matched by a strong, empowered female cast including Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and the aforementioned Jennifer Jason Leigh. They don’t always get fleshed out, but their necessity derives from the overall themes, and their presence is effective.
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