Annihilation was one of our most anticipated films of 2017 — I say “was” because despite the overwhelmingly positive reactions to the sneak peek at CinemaCon, Paramount pushed the release back to 2018. The new film from Ex Machina director Alex Garland stars Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and has us pumped for so many reasons (like, all of the names just mentioned); if you’ve read the deeply unnerving sci-fi novel on which it’s based, then you’re probably twice as eager to see Garland’s adaptation. At least one person has already seen it: Annihilation author Jeff VanderMeer, and his reaction really isn’t making the wait for 2018 any easier.

Published in 2014, VanderMeer’s book (the first in the Southern Reach Trilogy) follows four women — a biologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist and a psychologist — on an expedition into Area X, a mysteriously uninhabited piece of land placed under quarantine by a shadowy agency. This is the 12th expedition into Area X: The second resulted in mass suicide, while the third ended with its participants shooting and killing each other, and members of the 11th expedition returned as shadows of their former selves — they all developed cancer and died a few weeks later.

Annihilation is an engrossing story that has serious cinematic potential, especially in the hands of a filmmaker like Garland, and according to VanderMeer, the Ex Machina director did not disappoint. While discussing his novel on a recent episode of The Watch podcast (via The Film Stage), VanderMeer revealed that he’s already seen Garland’s film, and to answer your first question, yes, some changes were made to the story:

The first thing I realized is that even though Alex Garland says he’s not an auteur, he is an auteur. So my expectation was to not have anything to do with the movie and that’s the actual fact. He wrote the script and he was kind enough to keep me in the loop during every part of the process, but that wasn’t for me to put my two cents in, basically. It was just so I would know what was going on.

VanderMeer couldn’t say exactly what was changed on the journey from page to screen, but he had high praise for Garland’s adaptation, which he likened to 2001: A Space Odyssey — basically, my dude is saying all the right things here:

It’s actually more surreal than the novel. There are a couple places where I was like, ‘I might need an anchor here.’ The ending is so mind-blowing and in some ways different from the book that it seems to be the kind of ending that, like 2001 or something like that, people will be talking about around the watercooler for years… Visually, it’s amazing. I must say that and that’s all I probably should say.

If you’ve read Annihilation (and I have), then this is excellent news. VanderMeer’s story, told from the POV of the nameless biologist, is somewhat slippery and elusive and entirely disquieting. I’ll stop there, except to add that casting Natalie Portman as the biologist is a genius move. (In fact, all of Garland’s casting is spot-on.)

VanderMeer didn’t stop there, however, sharing even more praise for Garland’s film over on Facebook:

I’m not really sure what I’m allowed to say about it or not say about it, so I’ll keep it simple…I’m still composing my thoughts and feelings about it. I can tell you it’s mind-blowing, surreal, extremely beautiful, extremely horrific, and it was so tense that our bodies felt sore and beat-up afterwards.

Yes, yes to all of this.

It’s just too bad that we’ll have to wait until next year to experience it. On the upside, I don’t think Paramount delayed Annihilation because they’re worried about it — quite the opposite, as it seems likely they pushed it back to avoid their crowded 2017 schedule, a move that will hopefully give this film the breathing room it deserves.

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