Writer-director Alex Garland's Annihilation, which hit theaters over the weekend, is a film full of the unexpected. It follows a group of scientists into a mysterious environmental disaster zone, where they encounter strange genetic anomalies, face their own insecurities and fears, and deal with all manner of intriguing and sometimes horrifying creatures.
Those creatures, ranging from a giant albino alligator to deer with flowers growing from their antlers, are the-co stars of the film's trailers and a major part of its appeal. Which brings us to another unexpected facet of Annihilation: Its freakiest creature had a very adorable nickname.
SPOILERS FOR ANNIHILATION BELOW
Several days into their journey through the Shimmer, the team comes upon the abandoned former headquarters of the Southern Reach and opts to make camp there. During the night, while Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Lena (Natalie Portman) are keeping watch, something rips through the base's fence. As the team investigates, a giant mutated bear lunges out and drags away Cass (Tuva Novotny). Later in the film, in perhaps its most tension-laden scene, the bear returns, and we get a closer look at it. It's fur is diseased, it's skull has lost almost all of its fur and skin, and it's learned to mimic Cass's dying scream as a lure for its prey. If you've seen the film, you know it's an image you won't soon forget.
Because the bear does not appear in Jeff VanderMeer's source novel, Annihilation's visual effects team had to construct the creature based entirely on the screenplay. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, visual effects supervisor Andrew Whitehurst discussed how his team merged human and bear features into the creature's face and skull to enhance its mutated quality, then "atrophied" various features (hence the exposed bone around the face to give the appearance of a creature that was "suffering." That was particularly important to Whitehurst, because seeing the creature lumbering around with all manner of illnesses eating away at it, coupled with its freaky mimic cry of "Help me!," created a real sense of a creature that was more than just a monster to fight.
“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," he said.
Perhaps to add further sympathy to the creature, Whitehurst and his team also gave the bear a nickname. Whitehurst calls Annihilation his "second bear movie," because he also did visual effects for the acclaimed 2014 family film Paddington. Drawing inspiration from that, he reasoned that since "Paddington" is the name of both a "very nice bear" and a very nice train station in the U.K., the Annihilation bear should be named for a more "rough-around-the-edges" train station.
"So our bear is called Homerton," Whitehurst said, referring to a train station in the London Borough of Hackney.
So, the next time you see Annihilation, remember that the horrifying bear monster has a name, and it's adorable. That way you'll be grinning with delight at Homerton while everyone else is about to jump out of their seats in terror.