’s may share a title with the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, but the film is very different from the 2014 sci-fi novel. The movie doesn’t just take some liberties with VanderMeer’s material; Garland’s film, about five women who travel into a mysterious region called “The Shimmer,” mainly uses the novel’s ideas as a jumping-off point. From there, Garland explores his own themes, wildly diverging from the book to chart a journey of mind-warping, bone-chilling extremes. But that doesn’t mean the book doesn’t provide further insight into Garland’s cinematic puzzle.
The Ex Machina filmmaker has described his latest as less of an adaptation and more of a dream interpretation of VanderMeer’s book, which makes a lot of sense considering how much the novel leaves up to the imagination – after reading it, I even had some of the freakiest dreams in recent memory. It’s also worth noting that VanderMeer came up with the idea for the book after having a , and that Andrei Tarkovsky’s very dream-like 1979 film Stalker, also about a trek to an inscrutable area within nature, was Garland’s only film reference when making Annihilation.
Now that you’ve seen the film, you’re probably still scooping up pieces of your melted brain off the floor. It’s a mesmerizing, terrifying, inventive film, one that is going to leave audiences bewildered for years (you can read our ). But can VanderMeer’s first book can offer us further clues to piece together Garland’s wild cerebral maze? Yes and no. I’ve broken down the biggest similarities and differences between the two, and which elements of the novel can help interpret the movie. I strongly recommend you go pick up the book if you haven’t; it’s a succinct and thrilling 208 pages, but if you truly cannot wait, here’s your spoilery guide. You’ve been warned of massive film and book SPOILERS.