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Annihilation Is a Good Sign for Alex Garland’s Warfare

April 16, 20248 Mins Read


  • Alex Garland’s next directorial film is titled Warfare, which is in collaboration with military advisor Ray Mendoza.
  • Garland’s greatest films are usually solely directed and written, drawing curiosity from fans about the film’s plot and potential glory.
  • One of Garland’s strangest sci-fi horror films was actually a novel adaptation, which inspires confidence for his next project.

Alex Garland’s 2024 film, Civil War, ventures outside his sci-fi and horror niche that he rose to fame in. Just two of his most innovative works include the zombie apocalyptic film 28 Days Later, starring Cillian Murphy, and the artificial intelligence warning known as Ex Machina. Apart from his upcoming film 28 Years Later, Garland will direct and co-write what many people suspect is another film in the dystopian, political spectrum: Warfare.

Not much is known about Warfare, as it’s still in early development with A24. Deadline has reported that Reservation Dogs‘ D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai will portray Ray Mendoza, who is also co-writing and co-directing the script. Mendoza and Garland previously collaborated on Civil War, in which Mendoza acted as the military advisor. Among his five feature films that Garland’s directed, Warfare will be the only one that he hasn’t solely written the script. Garland is a trailblazing mastermind when it comes to original ideas inspired by real-life issues such as toxic masculinity, machine intelligence and divisive American politics. Naturally, fans of his might be skeptical about anticipating a story that isn’t entirely his own. But faith in Garland can be restored by looking to Annihilation, a past film of his that was actually adapted from a Jeff VanderMeer novel.

Annihilation Is an Underrated Model of Science Fiction


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Alex Garland’s Civil War explores politics, morals and journalism as Kirsten Dunst’s Lee and her media team try to document a coup in Washington.

Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, Annihilation, is the first of four books (one forthcoming) known as the “Southern Reach Trilogy.” It was published just four years before the release of Garland’s film, which shows the impact it had on Garland himself. The film’s story features five women — a cellular biologist, a psychologist, a geomorphologist, a paramedic and a physicist — traveling into an area known as the “Shimmer”, which is slowly spreading throughout the world. It’s not made explicitly clear what the Shimmer is, only that it has extraterrestrial origins and alters the DNA of everything it touches. The strange and brain-teasing quality of Annihilation is usually something that attracts hardcore sci-fi fans, but the film barely broke even at the box office. It wasn’t until years later that fans made Annihilation a modern cult classic.

Out of every Alex Garland-directed film, Ex Machina is probably the one that resonated with viewers the most before Civil War. It touched on real issues that people are frightened of. Artificial intelligence is a growing technology that gets smarter and stronger every year. In 2014, Garland was already foreshadowing the consequences of playing god. At the same time, he also made viewers question the treatment of so-called humanoids. If they were to ever exist, would they have the same rights as humans? Is their mission to blend into society or to destroy it? People walked into the theater believing the message was, “Robots are bad.” They came out of the theater asking, “Are humans the evil ones?”

Annihilation, on the other hand, isn’t so simple. The film doesn’t give the answers to the viewers, a trend Garland continues in Civil War. It uses the trippy spectacle of the mysterious Shimmer and its effects as simply a backdrop to the real story of self-destruction. Each of the women have a reason to go inside the Shimmer, whether it’s because they’re dying of cancer or the guilt of cheating on their spouse. Annihilation doesn’t necessarily touch on wider societal issues that could change the face of politics and technology, but it nails the human psyche. There’s a human impulse to destroy oneself, and that’s what the Shimmer represents. Sometimes, a profound sci-fi film doesn’t need to be obvious. It just has to be weird and “shimmer.”

Annihilation Is Proof That Alex Garland Handles Adaptations Well

A mutant bear standing behind Lena in Annihilation


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Garland’s version of Annihilation is by no means verbatim to VanderMeer’s. For one, only four women enter the Shimmer in the novel, and their occupations are different: a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor. In his version of the story, they’re traveling in a zone known as Area X, which has been on Earth for 30 years. Garland’s Shimmer has only been in his world for three years. These differences alone change the urgency of the mission. Garland’s team is pressingly trying to figure out the cause of the Shimmer to stop it from spreading any further, whereas VanderMeer’s team appears to only enter to find out what happened to the previous expedition.

Garland, however, doesn’t completely abandon VanderMeer’s core storylines. The protagonist in both works (VanderMeer’s simply named the biologist and Garland’s as Lena) is motivated by the drive to find her husband, who went into the Shimmer and returned with no memory of his expedition. Both works also feature a thematic metaphor about the fear cancer patients go through during diagnosis and chemotherapy. The surviving victims of the Shimmer return as physically themselves, but are psychologically and emotionally never the same, just like cancer survivors.

VanderMeer’s novel has the benefit of just being the first story in a series of novels. Area X is explored further in its sequels, with more background unveiled about the mysterious area. Garland, however, has no interest in returning to the story of Annihilation. The film has a beginning, middle, and end that perfectly balances the thirst for more answers and the satisfaction of having enough. Garland mindfully uses VanderMeer’s creation by respecting its core themes of self-destruction and aversion to change, while also making the story his own. Similar to his other movies, Annihilation feels like an original triumph, which is a sign of any great adaptation.

Warfare Is in Good Hands

Joel (Wagner Moura) screaming in front of a tank and soldiers in Civil War


REVIEW: Civil War is a Bombastic, Proudly Divisive Film That Avoids Easy Answers

Alex Garland’s Civil War is an ode to journalists’ brutal, necessary work. It’s also a complicated and messy film that never provides easy answers.

The plot of Warfare is still under wraps, and it’s unclear if Deadline’s report of Ray Mendoza being a fictionalized character in the film is true. There is still plenty of time to speculate about the plot, but the film has a stacked cast featuring Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3‘s Will Poulter, Fantastic Four‘s Joseph Quinn, Noah Centineo, Charles Melton, Kit Connor, Michael Gandolfini and Cosmo Jarvis. Judging by the fact that it’s an all-male cast as of now, Warfare will likely take place in a military setting, seeing young men being shipped off to war. Since Mendoza joined the Navy in 1997 and received a Silver Star in 2006, there’s a chance it could be inspired by the Iraq War.

With Christopher Nolan’s global success with the historical films Oppenheimer and Dunkirk, and despite being known for his metaphysical themes, Garland could be taking a chance at portraying an accurate depiction of a war. But then there’s Civil War, an obvious allegory for a post-Trump America split by political agendas. The brilliance behind Civil War is that, while there is obvious inspiration from real politics, the film portrays a fictional America in the near future. Rather than being about the war, the story focuses on the ethical implications of war photography and the dangers of extremism. Garland could very well be taking the same route with Warfare, which may or may not be related to Civil War.

It’s not Civil War, however, that indicates Warfare‘s future success. It’s Annihilation. Adaptations or collaborations with other writers is no easy feat for screenwriters. It requires a foundational respect for the original story, while also adding something new that the current audience wants to see. Annihilation proved that Garland can achieve just that, so there’s no reason to say Warfare won’t be his next directorial and writing hit.

Annihilation is available to rent from Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV. Warfare is in development with A24.

Annihilation poster


A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply.

Alex Garland

Release Date
February 23, 2018

115 minutes

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