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I Can’t Stop Thinking About How The Best Part Of Annihilation Was A Song That Barely Was In The Fucking Movie

I can’t tell you how many notes I have for the movie Annihilation.

Caution: some minor spoilers ahead.

The film is a sprawling mindfuck based on the first entry of Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X trilogy about nature versus nurture versus aliens. The issue I had with the movie is that it straight up ignored many of the books’ defining features, from the use of hypnotism to “blind” the expedition participants from horror to the complete fucking missed opportunity to address climate change, a core theme of the book. The ending also very stupidly ties up all loose ends, offering a final second “twist” that is both obvious and unsurprising, not to mention a betrayal of the series’ principles that “does the work” for the audience. It also features Jennifer Jason Leigh saying the film’s name in the stupidest way possible only for things to melt – except for a scarf. I was quite angry.

Yet, it’s not a bad film – and these notes are very small and reasonable, really. It’s beautiful, well crafted, includes good acting amongst many other things. And, since it’s now on (Euro) Netflix, I highly recommend you give it a watch while stoned out of your fucking mind, particularly for the last thirty minutes or so of the film. A big factor in the movie’s being great is the music but, still, this too missed the mark. Let me explain.

Remember the trailer for the film? It featured a bizarre and brilliant glitching electronic sound that, in many cases, evokes techno-horror. It sets the film up to be this high-tech sci-fi romp and, sadly, this does not happen. The film doesn’t live up to the trailer as the sounds that you hear –  the enveloping, alien, disjointed thrum that sends shivers down your spine – only manifest in the final act of the film, happening once. Yes, the best part of the movie, the tripped out music, doesn’t appear any more or any less than what you hear in the trailer. In a sense, the film’s soundtrack deflates its own hype: it’s neither as sci-fi or dystopian as it can be and the soundtrack reinforces this feeling.

The song in question – “The Alien” – comes from composing duo Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, the latter of which was a Portishead producer. The sound of the song is cool but is the lone moment of oddity, of electronic future scruff – and it’s so disappointing that this sonic highlight wasn’t used as the core of the film’s score. It’s a huge blow to audial leaning viewers like myself, who walked in hoping for the sequel to Arrival‘s handling by Jóhann Jóhannsson (RIfuckingP, my dude.). That film excelled in offering you visual that wowed and weirded you out both by way of images and story with a soundtrack that heightened the experience. Here? The sound was lost and the sound that did jump out, the sound(s) from the trailer, was provided for a brief minute at the film’s climax. Too little too late, really.

To understand why this is the case, we have to look at the really dumb reasoning from Salisbury, which he shared in an interview with Rolling Stone. The answer is in response to the interviewer ackowledgong the “decay” sound that comes across in the electronics, particularly at the film’s biggest moment.

What you picked up on was very important. And managing that and judging the temperature of that, and not getting too weird too soon and saving a massive thing for the climax was important. When we first … saw the alien sequence in the lighthouse, we were blown away by it. And we just had to keep hold of that feeling we had when we first saw it. We knew it would be a 12-15-minute long music sequence and we found good temp music, some chorale music, which worked well.

But we knew we had to write for that in the end and it was a massive challenge. The piece itself, “The Alien,” has four sections: Geoff and I took charge of the orchestral part, Geoff handled the electronic part, and the voices one I took charge of. But the stitching together of it was Alex and Barney and it was an interesting collaboration.

My take: you should have gotten fucking weirder, dude. Barrow should have taken the lead for the soundtrack, having it be mainly electronic with bits of nature sticking out. The resulting soundtrack is mismatched for the film, like the wrong person getting cast for a lead. It all could have been so much better but, alas, here we are.

Again: the movie doesn’t suck but the soundtrack, like lots of little moments in the film, represent severe opportunities missed. Disappointing, I say. If anything, the film would look great while stoned out your fucking mind. Consider this when approaching Annihilation.

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