With the release of Alex Garland’s ‘Annihilation’ in American cinemas and on Netflix internationally (what a time to be an international, yay) it seems like a good time to go over Mr Garland’s filmography. From his work as a writer on some of my favourite movies to now funnily enough directing some of my favourite movies.
28 Days Later
This was Alex’s big break into the Hollywood consciousness. A rare and well crafted British zombie flick that somehow manages to elevate the genre to new heights even with the relatively small budget. Garland only a receives a writing credit for this one while , but saying ‘only’ isn’t really giving him enough credit on that… credit. Danny Boyle take on the directing duties but this doesn’t stop some of Garland’s gritty realism seeping through onto the screen. Most of the characters deliver their dialogue perfectly (minus one very obvious performance that sticks out like a sore thumb. Seriously you’ll know when you see it), and it’s that convincingly raw script that just pushes this movie above its genre. That and the soundtrack. Soundtrack be banging.
Sunshine marks the second collaboration between Alex Garland and Danny Boyle and although it has been critically praised, it was a big disappointment in the box office. It’s a trend that seems to be plaguing a lot of high concept science fiction releases of late. While some deserve this treatment, cough, cough, Transformers, cough. There are a huge amount of genuinely amazing pieces of sci fi genius that go horribly unseen by audiences. Sunshine deserves its time in the…..hell I’m gonna do it….the sun. A really solid cast plan to throw a couple of nukes into the sun to restart it, a wild premise but again it’s the writing that makes it work. Every character is brought to life through amazing performances across the board, each with their own distinct personalities and connections. The bastards really make you really feel for them when the poop hits the fan. Some critics seem to have a problem with the hard turn into horror territory in the final third but not me. Love me a little horror. Good movie, made me believe that Chris Evans was ready to play Captain America.
Going into its theatrical release Dredd had a lot going against it, with the terrible 90’s version leaving a bad taste in the mouth of moviegoers. Couple that with the lack of marketing and the terrible decision to release Dredd as a 3D only experience led to guess what, a failure at the box office. This one hurt because as many of you know, Dredd is AWESOME. But if an awesome movie falls in the woods and nobody hears it, is it still awesome? I think I fudged my analogy, but the lack of box office takings for Dredd has basically sunk any chance of a sequel and it has permanently scarred my brain. Dredd did garner a lot of support in the ‘Make Dredd a sequel’ campaign that boosted its profile with big takings in the home video release but I fear its still not enough for this beauty of a film. Finally coming back to Alex Garland though, fun fact, he was originally down as the writer but the lead actor, Karl Urban, recently revealed that Garland basically directed Dredd making this his actual directing debut (see, told you we’d get to it). He wasn’t officially credited for directing at the time of writing this article, but he didn’t have to wait much longer to sit in the director’s chair…
Ex-Machina, as an official directorial debut(2nd) of Garland, is an outstanding achievement. It has nowhere near as much action as the other three movies in this list, but still manages to get the pulse going. I mean with the carefully crafted building tension that has you shrinking into your seats, not in the weird looking at naked lady robot ways. This movie manages to keep you enthralled with what is basically a giant Turing test carried out by Domhnall Gleeson, who plays a mild mannered techie that’s been invited to test out a secret new project by the enigmatic inventor played by the always enthralling Oscar Isaac. The chemistry between the two polar opposite characters is immense, but it’s also their relationships to Isaacs’s robotic creation ‘Ava’, that really drives the movie along. Alicia Vikander steals the show playing something that though looks relatively human, has motivations and thoughts that are beyond the understanding of the audience, and not surprisingly, the two Male leads. As much as l personally love Dredd, I can’t fault Ex-Machina and would not argue against it being crowned as Garland’s pinnacle of his work.
There’s something a little off about this movie at first viewing. Alex Garland has consistently delivered on point scripts throughout his career, but honestly this might be the first miss. For the first half of the movie everything feels rushed and forced. Unnecessary monologues abound and it’s a shame because the cast is known for much better performances. Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac and Jennifer Jason Leigh are no slouches when it comes to acting which makes it all the more frustrating. To be fair to Annihilation, the movie isn’t terrible, its just feels worse than it is when compared to the other examples in Alex Garlands catalogue of work. It does pick up at the half way point as it ramps up the paranoia for the characters, . But it still doesn’t quite claw back a reputation that lives up to the hype it
Now even though this list ended on a down note, I do recommend watching all the films on this list as Alex Garland is on track to be one of the best directors around, and it never hurts to see how he is getting there. Any comments for or against the movies listed or the opinions expressed are always welcome. Sound them off people!