Alex Garland’s Annihilation isn’t technically a horror movie, but it contains a couple of highly disturbing scenes that everybody who has seen the flick is talking about. One of these scenes involves an encounter with a monster, and given how every ugly monster design possible has technically been done, the fact that today’s filmgoers could still have the willies scared out of them by one is unexpected. How bad must this thing be?
The monster is a bear, mutated by the effects of the Shimmer (which is an off-kilter area created by a crashed meteorite where the laws of nature have run amuck). Due to those effects, its face has been reduced to a disturbing toothy skull. Even creepier, the bear mimics the voice of its last victim, so as it’s running around chasing our hapless heroes, it’s screaming out the distorted calls of anguish from the last human it ate.
Annihilation is based on a book, and the bear appears nowhere in it. It’s purely a creation of the visual effects team, birthed during an experiment where they morphed a human and bear skull together and thought it looked striking. “We looked at that and said, ‘That’s horrible, that’s really very visually striking and interesting, what can we do with that?’” visual effects supervisor Andrew Whitehurst told EW.com.
“The rest of the creature, in terms of its physiognomy, is very bear-like, but in order to get the idea of the sickness, we had parts — particularly around the face, the skull, and flesh — atrophied in a way. We gave it alopecia and other skin complaints so the creature looked like it was suffering.”
When bringing the bear to life, Whitehurst and his team came up with a story and motive for it. “It’s an animal who doesn’t really know what it has become and is clearly suffering, and that side of the story was important because you didn’t want something that was just this horrific killing machine: You wanted a creature that was in a situation that was not of its own making and that it was unable to deal with.”
The bear’s official name is Homerton, and its name is derived from a train station. A more famous bear — Paddington — also gets its name from a station, and Paddington 2 was the last movie Whitehurst worked on. “Paddington is very nice bear, and Paddington Station [in London] is a very elegant Victorian station, so we thought, ‘What was a slightly rough-around-the-edges station?’