The sci-fi thriller Annihilation hits theaters in late February, and it looks to be truly special. The film is an adaptation of the first novel in Jeff VanderMeer’s best-selling Southern Reach Trilogy. Natalie Portman leads the cast as a botanist who is part of a team exploring a zone where the laws of nature are twisted. She’s joined by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson, with an appearance from Oscar Isaac.

Annihilation also happens to be the latest from acclaimed writer/director Alex Garland. His first film, Ex Machina, was a tremendous critical and audience success. Because of Garland’s work on Ex MachinaAnnihilation has quickly become one of the most anticipated sci-fi films of the year. Before we dive into the film adaptation of Annihilation, let’s look at what made the novel so compelling.

What Is Annihilation?

Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, and follows a team of women that sets off to explore an uninhabited area of the U.S. known as Area X. The team members are never referred to by name, only by specialization. So there’s the anthropologist, surveyor, biologist and a psychologist. This team, in the book, is the 12th expeditionary group to venture into Area X. Prior to their mission, the previous 11 teams failed to return.

The biologist’s husband (played by Isaac in the film) is among those that have gone missing in Area X, and she will stop at nothing to find out what happened to him. Once they cross the threshold into Area X, the group quickly learns that an unknown force is causing all biological life to transform into something completely new to Earth. What follows is beyond anything the team has seen before, and they discover the terrors that lie within the zone.

Annihilation weaves an impressive story that blends science fiction, fantasy and horror elements in a unique way. The mystery and suspense are woven deep into the book’s narrative, but at its core Annihilation is a character study. The biologist serves as the perfect narrator (as the story is told via journal entries), and readers come to understand the world as if experiencing the events first-hand.

Now that Annihilation is going to be introduced to a larger audience on the silver screen, it could follow in the footsteps of other great adaptations. While the Southern Reach Trilogy isn’t exactly a part of the cultural zeitgeist, in the hands of Alex Garland, Annihilation has the potential to be one of the best sci-fi films of the year.

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[Credit: Paramount]

Even before the trailer dropped, Annihilation was garnering some serious buzz. Some of the interest can be attributed to the impressive cast and the fact that it’s a female-led sci-fi film. A majority of the buzz, however, is due to writer/directorAlex GarlandIt’s rare that a director knocks it out of the park on their first outing, but with Ex Machina, Garland created a masterpiece.

Even prior to his directing debut Garland was an accomplished screenwriter. Ex Machina solidified his place as one of the best up-and-coming directors in Hollywood. When it was announced that Garland was writing and directing Annihilation, the project instantly became highly anticipated. While Garland’s directorial clout is impressive, he also happens to be the perfect person to bring Annihilation’sdense and compelling story to life.

Jeff VanderMeer’s acclaimed books are complex, and in the hands of someone less capable, a film adaptation could be a disaster. Thankfully, Garland has the skills to handle the project, but more importantly, he’s a fan of the books. In an interview with Collider, Garland spoke about why he wanted to bring Annihilation to the big screen:

I thought it was really beautiful and strange and also genuinely original. Really original material is quite hard to find. It’s subjective but I just felt truly surprised and engaged. I found the process reading it to be a powerful experience. It has a really particular dreamlike atmosphere and I found that really fascinating.

While it’s true that Garland’s work on Ex Machina proved he’s a talented director, it’s his reverence for Annihilation’s source material that makes the project unique. When you break it down, Annihilation has everything it needs to be a success. With Garland at the helm and Natalie Portman in the starring role, it has serious mainstream appeal. When that’s combined with Garland’s passion and the outstanding source material, it’s a perfect storm. If the film delivers on its potential, it has the potential to be one of the best films of the year and really connect with audiences around the world.

Catch Annihilation when it hits theaters on February 23, 2018.