28 Days Later was the first movie that had me stumbling out of the theater in a mind-fried daze. Back in 2002, I knew director Danny Boyle from Trainspotting and The Beach, both movies with some troubling themes, but I went in expecting nothing more than a fun zombie romp (this was, after all, long before zombies had infected every part of popular culture). But the movie sold the “humans are the real monsters” trope in a way I had never before seen. By the time Jim (Cillian Murphy) nearly attacks Selena (Naomi Harris) in his bloody rage, I no longer knew what to believe or expect. My friend and I were so shocked by what we’d just experienced that we drove 20 minutes in the wrong direction before realizing our error.
16 years later, I left Annihilation in a similar state. Working here as both writer and director, 28 Days Later screenwriter Alex Garland uses sci-fi tropes to raise questions about identity and existence, with a level of urgency found only classics such as Solaris, Stalker, and John Carpenter’s The Thing.