When Denis Villeneuve made Arrival it was as the return of great contemplative Sci-Fi. The film had little to no action was not only a fascinating character study — it was a visual masterpiece, a fantastic hook in that aliens have arrived we just can’t understand them. It was no wonder the film was lauded so highly. With a budget of just under $50 million and garnering over $200 million at the box office it seemed as though it was time for quiet Sci-Fi to make a comeback. The latest of these endeavours, was Annihilation.
The film, by all margins should have been fairly profitable. It has a generally strong cast and is yet again another Sci-Fi film in the recent resurgence of being led by a strong female main cast. Leading the film is Natalie Portman with Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Oscar Isaac in supporting roles. The talent and names were there to attract a larger crowd. Why then, does it not work in the same way as Arrival?
The question is somewhat subjective, sometimes a film simply bombs at the box office due to timing, lack of advertisements or other similar non-filmic reasons. However, I think there is something more to the failure of Annihilation that has to do with its narrative structure posed by the film’s marketing. When Arrival was being advertised, it focused on a singular question: How do we connect with these aliens?
Annihilation has taken a similar albeit different approach. While they show off the shimmer in the film (the main source of the odd happenstance throughout the film) it is wholly unclear what it is in any marketing. Is it alien? Is it magic? Nothing is truly confirmed outside of the fact that Portman’s Lena is sent to investigate and she is a biologist. This issue may seem surface level, however the lack of focus in the advertising campaign makes it difficult to entice fans of any particular genre. They don’t see what they want, so they move on.
The other issue, I would levy, is in the title of the film. A title should encapsulate your movie in a clear way that is easy for an audience to interpret. Taking a look at Arrival that is clear enough to see. However, even just looking at some of the Oscar nominations for best picture this year it becomes even clearer how important this concept is. Get Out, Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Lady Bird even The Post. Their titles reflect the focus of their films in a way that Annihilation lacks. The title isn’t necessarily bad, just vague and that gives audiences a hard time pinning down what exactly the film is about.
Sometimes mistakes as simple as these can negate a massive amount of press or momentum for a film. These kinds of marketing issues and even skin deep problems with a film can oftentimes determine a film’s overall box office potential right out of the gates. Because if you can’t get someone to sit down and watch your film, it doesn’t matter how good it is or who is in it. These are the issues Annihilation is facing currently; it isn’t a poorly reviewed film, it just an overlooked one.