After years as a respected genre scribe, Alex Garland broke out into the mainstream in a big way this summer with sci-fi fable Ex Machina, which he both wrote and directed. All eyes are on the helmer as he plots his follow-up, a post-apocalyptic horror adventure titled Annihilation, and now we’re learning that Garland already likes Black Swan Oscar winner Natalie Portman for the lead role.
The story, based on the brilliant Jeff VanderMeer novel (which is part of a trilogy), is best described as an environmental horror-thriller. It centers on a biologist (Portman) who leads a four-person expedition into the mysterious Area X, a quarantined patch of land in the U.S. where abnormal occurrences have kept human investigators at bay. The biologist’s group is the twelfth to venture into Area X; some of the previous expeditions have ended in mass suicide, murder and cancer diagnoses, while others have returned to report Edenic conditions.
Of course, things don’t go that well for the twelfth group. While inside the area, the biologist grapples with mysterious contamination, disappearing colleagues, a deadly animal, a mysterious creature called the Crawler and her husband’s disappearance.
Garland penned the script, which in addition to his directing has caused a lot of heads to swivel toward the project. Following the success of Ex Machina, Garland is suddenly the hotshot director everyone wants to work with. The role of Portman’s colleague, a psychologist, is being pursued by actresses including Tilda Swinton and Julianne Moore, though Garland, Paramount and producer Scott Rudin won’t start considering anyone until Portman’s deal is signed.
The director’s involvement hinges on Annihilation getting off the ground no sooner than the start of 2016, but a production start date is being worked out. In the meantime, here’s the official synopsis for VanderMeer’s book:
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer.
In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.
The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one anotioner, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.