How Annihilation changed Jeff VanderMeer’s weird novel into a new life-form

Warning: Major spoilers for both the film and book versions of Annihilation.

Alex Garland’s Annihilation, the mind-bending science fiction journey into the world of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach books, is an astounding film. It’s smart and daring and almost as satisfying to talk about as it is to experience firsthand. It’s even more astonishing considering its source, a seemingly unadaptable, utterly bizarre novel. But Garland found a way to make the film into its own creature. His version is simultaneously faithful in spirit and shockingly bold in its departures in plot and theme.

The film carries over the book’s core elements: a mysterious barrier, known as Area X by the shadowy government agency that studies it, appears around a…

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