Annihilation: What to Expect From a Sequel


WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Alex Garland's Annihilation, in theaters now.

As of this morning writer/director Alex Garland’s new sci-fi film Annihilation has an 87 percent critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 68 percent audience score. Add to that a projected domestic opening box office of somewhere between $10 million to $12 million, and the odds for a sequel are looking pretty good. The film is an adaptation of the first novel in author Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, published in 2014. So, with that knowledge, and with clues from the film, we look ahead to what audiences might expect from a follow-up.

We should note that Paramount Pictures and Skydance Media sold the international rights to Annihilation to Netflix, which means you can only see the feature in theaters in the United States and Canada. (You can watch it from the comfort of your own home most everywhere else.) If there is a sequel, it will be interesting to see how, and where, it's distributed.

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Garland has stated that when he chose to adapt Annihilation, the other two novels in the trilogy -- Authority and Acceptance -- hadn’t yet been published. Further, he said he wrote 2012's Dredd as a trilogy, and when it bombed at the box office, he changed his approach to sequels. He decided with Annihilation to focus on a single film and not plan ahead. So, we shouldn’t expect to find too much foreshadowing for a sequel. Regardless, we do know what transpires in the second novel, Authority, and there are definitely some solid clues as to what Garland was suggesting may happen after his ending.

The Annihilation novel takes place wholly inside the environmental disaster area designated Area X, which is also referred to in the film as The Shimmer. The debriefing scenes in which Lomax (played by Benedict Wong) questions Lena (Natalie Portman) are an important part of the second novel, Authority.

The Shimmer in Annihilation
The Shimmer in Annihilation

The plot of that book revolves around the secret agency known as Southern Reach, tasked with figuring out what's happening inside Area X. The director of the agency holds the title Control, and Authority begins with a new operative assuming the role; that's the Lomax character from the movie. Utilizing the organization’s resources, he figures out the psychologist from Annihilation was the previous Control, and that she has deep ties to Area X. He also uncovers information revealing the expedition in Annihilation wasn’t actually the 12th, as there had been expeditions 11A to 11G; that means there were 17 failed missions prior to the all-female team. Control’s probing places him at odds with Southern Reach’s executive branch, and that, coupled with the agency’s offices being swallowed up by Area X, leaves him operating independently. The book ends with him entering Area X himself.

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There are some important differences between the novel and the adaptation, including that the character Kane from the film never makes it out of Area X in the book. Further, the endings are different in terms of what Lena (known only as “the biologist” in the book) does once she makes it to the lighthouse. In the film she starts a fire that seems to kill her doppelganger and eliminate The Shimmer. In the book, after finding and reading her husband's journals, she circles back to a part of Area X that's not in the film, called “the tunnel,” which is integral to the novel’s plot. In both the film and the books, she reappears outside Area X with no recollection of how she got out.

Lena's debriefing in Annihilation

We expect that a sequel will of course be based on Authority, and specifically the plot points we mentioned. But with The Shimmer wiped out in the film, it does deviate from the source material quite drastically. While a copy of Kane emerges from The Shimmer in the film, it's a copy of the psychologist that comes out of Area X in Authority, and the zone expands when she does. However, the most telling detail from the film is the last scene in which Lena and the Kane doppelganger embrace, and we see that Lena, while not a copy, is also alien at this point. So, at the very least, we’re sure Portman and Oscar Isaac will reprise their roles as Lena and Kane, and we will find out more about the agency that is holding them.

In theaters now, writer/director Alex Garland's Annihilation stars Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Tessa Thompson.

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