Director – Alex Garland
Cast – Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac
Rating – 4.5/5
Lens flares are mistakes. They’re freak accidents that have, in recent years, been abused with an almost murderous carelessness. You’ve seen them in virtually every science-fiction film in the last two decades. But for decades, cinematographers would go to great lengths to avoid flares. It all changed sometime around the ’70s, when an era of young directors – part of the New Hollywood Movement – decided that flares sort of fell in line with their unglamorous aesthetic; and not like they could afford to fix them anyway.
Soon, flares were popularised as a deliberate stylistic choice by Steven Spielberg, and in the years that followed, by his many admirers, most famously directors like Michael Bay and JJ Abrams.
More recently, lens flares have become almost omnipresent in sci-fi movies, to the point that there are even apps available for your phone using which you can create alien invasions in your living rooms. You see flares everywhere from the latest Taylor Swift video to the sleekest new Apple ad.
Lens flares have textual import in Annihilation. (Netflix)
There is, however, one key point that must be made. In each of these cases – from the inadvertent hexagons that appear in Easy Rider to the shards of blue in Super 8 – the flares themselves are little more than superficial embellishments, made perhaps to evoke nostalgia, or – and this is more likely – just to appear cool.
But in Alex Garland’s Kubrickian new film, Annihilation, which was made available worldwide on Netflix (more on this later), the filmmaker’s (over)use of flares has real, textual relevance. You see, flares happen when light hits the lens and essentially refracts. Annihilation deals with complex, challenging themes such as the imperfection of nature and the mistakes human beings are so prone to make. It is also, quite literally, about a strange force known as ‘The Shimmer’ that causes the ‘refraction of DNA’. So when glorious shards of anamorphic lens flares are smeared across the screen – which happens very, very often – it’s more than just empty style, it’s visual storytelling.