By Megan Bianco
Two indie darlings of sci-fi cinema just happened to drop their most recent releases on the same weekend in February: Alex Garland with his adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Duncan Jones with his original Mute. The former is being quietly released in theaters by Paramount before heading to Netflix next month, and the latter is going straight to Netflix, but with a ton of (ultimately false) hype.
Garland is the screenwriter-turned-director who gave us the scripts for 21 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), Never Let Me Go (2010), Dredd (2012) and Ex Machina (2015)—the last one also directed by him. Jones had the two-punch feature film debuts of Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011), and then followed up with the blockbuster schlock of WarCraft (2016).
Garland’s new feature, while star-studded, is doing barely modestly at the box-office thanks to its dark theme and Black Panther‘s pull on movie viewers. But critics are as excited about it as with Ex Machina, and Annihilation might end up being considered one of the year’s best films. Jones’ film, on the other hand, is getting dumped on to a possibly greater extent than any other movie since the year began. How does this happen?
One filmmaker’s reputation is growing higher and higher, the other almost instantly losing his credibility. Many in the industry have wondered if Moon and Source Code benefited from some additional hands in the screenplays, but Mute was a decade-long passion project of Jones. He must have felt relieved that his first two movies were big sleeper hits and he didn’t have to change his name to distract from the fact that his father was none other than David Bowie. But unfortunately Mute is stuck with enough plotholes, bad acting, bad dialogue and inconsistent tone, that now movie fans are wondering if the first half of his career was a fluke.
Garland amazingly went from novelist to screenwriter to director within two decades. He seemed to gain from a strong collaboration with director Danny Boyle, who made the ill-fated 2000 adaptation of Garland’s book The Beach. But Boyle then directed Garland’s script for their indie horror hit 28 Days Later. With a smooth transition from writer to director on the underrated Dredd and the Oscar-winning Ex Machina, and his latest work being called chilling and even psychedelic, it looks like Garland has emerged as the current king of indie sci-fi films.
Jones on the other hand, might be feeling a little pressure as he now has two good movies to four bad ones. Hopefully he gets some pointers or experiences some kind of creative breakthrough so as not to completely waste the potential he showed ten years ago.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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