In his Southern Reach Trilogy, Jeff Vandermeer weaves a beautifully written and vividly imagined story of a presumed alien invasion. However, when I read the trilogy, I had virtually no idea what was going on. I picked up threads here and there; enough to know that Area X acted in some way akin to the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers—whoever went in was not necessarily the same version of the person who came out. Later in the trilogy, the image of the Biologist as Leviathan was striking and awesome and reminded me of a scene from the novel The Fisherman, where a man sat on the beach from which heavy chains extended out into the surf in an effort to capture (hook) that novel’s own Leviathan. Perhaps one might uncover in Vandermeer’s trilogy comparisons to Lovecraft’s “The Color Out of Space” or even to King’s “Weeds,” which became the segment in the film Creepshow, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verill.”
With regard to the film, Annihilation, which is an adaptation of the first novel of the trilogy, I recognized very little of that novel in the film, save for the initial premise. The film was as challenging as were the books, but it was a beautifully realized film. The events that ultimately transpire are open to interpretation (the best films resist spoon-feeding and dumbing-down their stories to appeal to the lowest common denominator within the movie-going populace), but having read the books, I had, at least, some awareness and tenuous understanding of what was taking place within the Shimmer (as Area X was referred to in the movie).
There is much from the books that I would love to see further explored in future films: the lighthouse, in particular (I was disappointed the film omitted the tower—perhaps a symbolic reflection of the lighthouse—and its living, arcane writings).
I read the novels quickly, and perhaps, in retrospect, I did myself a disservice. I believe the trilogy should be digested slowly, its imagery contemplated deeply. There is wonder in those pages as well as a far more complex and meaningful story if one is willing to take one’s time to try to decipher the clues. The Southern Reach Trilogy, at least for me, deserves another, if not several more readings.