From his screenwriting debut, the 2002 sci-fi classic “28 Days Later,” to his directorial debut, the 2015 breakthrough “Ex Machina,” filmmaker Alex Garland has proven himself to be a trailblazing force in modern sci-fi cinema.
His latest, “Annihilation,” follows a biologist (Natalie Portman) who teams up with a group of scientists (played by Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, among others) to explore an environmental disaster zone that has claimed the lives of nearly every other person who has entered Area X — including her husband (Oscar Isaac), who is gravely ill.
First reactions to the film have called it “brilliant,” “riveting,” and “wickedly disturbing” — a worthy follow-up to the critically acclaimed “Ex Machina.” Ahead of “Annihilation,” which debuts this Friday, get up to speed with the rest of Garland’s oeuvre in this quick primer.
“28 Days Later” (2002)
While Garland first achieved pop culture notoriety for his 1996 novel “The Beach,” which was later turned into the 2000 Danny Boyle film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, he first proved his screenwriting chops by teaming with Boyle for the modern horror classic “28 Days Later.” Cillian Murphy stars as man who wakes up to find he might be the last person alive in London after an incurable, zombie-like virus has wiped out the rest of the population. It earned acclaim for both Boyle and Garland, and the film has such an enduring legacy that it topped IndieWire’s recent list of the 20 best horror movies of the 21st century.
Boyle and Garland’s next collaboration — with their “28 Days Later” star Murphy — followed the crew of a future spaceship on a dangerous mission to save the dying sun (and, you know, ensure the continued existence of mankind). Other crew members on the ill-fated Icarus II were played by Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, and Cliff Curtis.
“Never Let Me Go” (2010)
This adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning British author Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian science fiction novel “Never Let Me Go” came with plenty of pressure, considering the book topped Time’s list of the best books of 2005 and made the magazine’s list of all-time 100 novels. Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightley, and Andrew Garfield starred as a group of three childhood friends whose life at an idyllic English boarding school was much more sinister than it seemed.
The highly anticipated comic book adaptation might not have been a box office hit, but its fans are so loyal that they’re still trying to champion a sequel a half a decade after its release. The post-apocalyptic drama starred Karl Urban as the powerful Judge Dredd, a man with the power of judge, jury and executioner in the dystopia of the American Northeast, now the massive Mega-City One. The gritty, violent, drama was praised for its humor and the way it captured the spirit of the source comics.
“Ex Machina” (2015)
Garland wrote and directed this modern sci-fi classic, which stars Domhnall Gleeson as a low-ranking computer programmer who travels to the remote Alaskan estate of his company’s reclusive genius founder (Oscar Isaac) to test just how human-like his boss’ A.I. creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander), can be. Per IndieWire’s review, the gripping drama “is a film of big ideas, elevated from what could be a theatrical chamber piece by the rigorous manner in which it delves into the question of artificial intelligence and the singularity, leaving you picking over its issues well after the credits roll, while also never feeling like you’re sitting through a TED talk.”
Another IndieWire review praised Garland’s first-time filmmaking, suggesting the movie could join the pantheon of sci-fi greats alongside works by Fritz Lang and Stanley Kubrick: “The director ensures this chamber piece of moral conundrums never seems too heavy-handed; his fluids camera roams through each room so that at no time does the theatrical set-up feel like a limitation. The one-location film is traditionally the preserve of first-time filmmakers, which admittedly is Garland’s status, but he executes it like a vet — with precise, robotic, pacing. The surprises are delivered as cleverly conceived pay-offs.”