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Warning! The following contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Annihilation, as well as touching on Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy. If you haven't yet explored the mysteries of The Shimmer, come back once you've seen it.
Annihilation just arrived in theaters and we are still processing the weirdness, horror and beauty of Alex Garland's mind-bending film. It's not often that you get science fiction that challenges the viewer like this, and we're naturally curious to see more of The Shimmer on screen. But how exactly this world could continue is up in the air. For those unaware, Annihilation is based on a novel of the same name by author Jeff VanderMeer and it is the first part of his Southern Reach Trilogy. The entire trilogy was acquired by Paramount, but director Alex Garland has previously stated that he would not be helming any potential sequel. But that doesn't mean that the story can't continue.
Like Inception, Blade Runner and many of the genre's most memorable classics, Annihilation provides no easy answers, leaving the viewer with an unnerving and ambiguous ending. Of all the many differences between Jeff VanderMeer's novel and Alex Garland's film, the ending is one of the big ones. In the novel, Lena sets off from The Lighthouse towards an island off the coast, in search of her husband, but Area X and the veil of eco-horror enveloping it remains. In the film, Lena (Natalie Portman) faces her duplicate and defeats it, destroying The Lighthouse and the source of The Shimmer in the process. Lena returns to the Southern Reach and something that is not her husband but some part of The Shimmer remains inside of her. This ending leaves a far less obvious path forward than the novel but it still opens up some compelling possibilities.
So let's take a look at the ways an Annihilation sequel could continue to diverge from the books and forge a new path.
Break from the Books
There are several reasons why the books do not provide a good template for any continuation of the Annihilation franchise. Upfront, it is worth noting that the second and third books aren't nearly as beloved as the spectacular first one, and they diverge drastically from the atmospheric, waking nightmare of Annihilation. The second novel, Authority, focuses on the political maneuvering of those at the Southern Reach organization. The third novel, Acceptance, returns to Area X during the winter but focuses more on revealing the past of the area. These approaches would not work for a sequel film because of how Alex Garland's film has already diverged from the source material. The Southern Reach organization was not portrayed to be nearly as clandestine or manipulative in the film, and watching office politics as a follow-up to a surreal eco-horror film doesn't feel like the right way to go. There is also the fact that The Shimmer's hold over the area was seemingly lifted at the end of the film, rendering future expeditions or investigations of this area rather moot.
Despite the divergence from Jeff VanderMeer's novel, the film actually opens up new and interesting possibilities for a sequel that can take the Annihilation franchise in some unexpected directions.
The Shimmer Becomes A Pandemic
Although The Shimmer was expanding, it was still relatively contained, with the Southern Reach government organization keeping Area X and its horrors secret from the public. But now, with The Shimmer and the threat it poses seemingly extinguished, the government may see no more cause for concern. Yet, as the end of the film alluded to, although The Lighthouse is ash and the veil of The Shimmer is lifted, its influence persists. Lena (Natalie Portman) may have defeated her duplicate, but she is changed, having become both more and less than she was when she went into The Shimmer.
Now, her and Faux-Kane can set out into the world, like plague ships being welcomed into an unsuspecting harbor, carrying The Shimmer with them. This approach could allow for an Annihilation sequel to act as a pandemic story. Perhaps Lena returns to Johns Hopkins and spreads this nightmare. Those Lena comes into contact with could begin to have their DNA refracted, duplicated and infused with the DNA of things around them. This approach could create a really compelling pandemic and body horror story that evolves Annihilation into something different, something new.
Do an 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers' story
Following Lena and Faux-Kane opens up a bunch of possibilities. But instead of taking the pandemic approach, an Annihilation sequel could explore how these two characters are not entirely human, if at all. While that could be used to examine what it means to be human, there are plenty of A.I. stories out there and that ground is well trodden. Instead this could be a body snatchers or Skrulls type situation where no one can trust their neighbors or those around them, fearing they might be not quite human.
In the novels, Kane isn't the first person sent into The Shimmer to return. If the Southern Reach was disingenuous with Lena or if they were simply unaware, The Shimmer could have sent more duplicates out into the world, either by nature or design. This would create a really fun and paranoid film, with Natalie Portman's Lena straddling the balance between what she was and what she is, perhaps growing to appreciate The Shimmer inside her.
The Lighthouse Was Just The Beginning
Part of what was so compelling about Annihilation is that you didn't necessarily get the sense that The Shimmer was a malevolent entity or force. It was simply acting in accordance with its nature. Unlike the novel, the film confirmed that this phenomenon was extra-terrestrial in origin. There is a concept in Astrobiology called Panspermia that hypothesizes that life on Earth may have originated elsewhere in the universe, brought to our planet via meteors carrying microbes and biological material. According to Slashfilm, an earlier version of the script ended with meteors like the one that hit The Lighthouse raining from the sky, presumably carrying with them more of The Shimmer and other horrors not of this world. This scrapped ending could still kick off a sequel film. With new Shimmers cropping up all over the world. There could be new expeditions to destroy the landing sites of each of these anomalies. Visually this would also provide a cool opportunity to see The Shimmer's surreal effects in different environments.
A variation of the Panspermia hypothesis is Directed Panspermia, in which the seeds of life were sent here by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization. So instead of assuming that Earth is just in the unfortunate path of a particularly germ-ridden set of space rocks, this could actually be a deliberate attempt by aliens to invade the Earth, by using biological weapons to return the planet to its Edenic state. This would require the scale of a sequel to be much bigger than the original but science fiction films have a proud history of taking small horror films like Alien and Terminator and vastly expanding the scope and mythology in the sequel.
The possibility of a sequel is likely dependent on many things, and sadly, Annihilation hasn't exactly set the box office on fire. But with an international distribution deal through Netflix, anything is possible. So what do you think? Would you like to see more of Annihilation? And if so, where would you like the franchise to take things? Let us know what you think and for all the latest in sci-fi you need a shower after, stay tuned to CinemaBlend.