With projects like Annihilation, Ex Machina, and Devs under his belt, writer-director Alex Garland is known as a dark and twisted sci-fi auteur. With his latest film, Civil War, however, Garland steps away from the sci-fi genre to tell perhaps his most chilling story yet.

In a dystopian near-future, the story of Civil War follows four journalists embedded with the military as they travel across a country being torn apart by rebellious factions. As they race to Washington, D.C., to cover the events that unfold before the rebels get there and tear the city apart, Civil War is a thorough examination of the role journalists – particularly journalists who don’t stop to think about how they present what they’re reporting on – can shape the course of a nation, and not always for the better.

Garland favors dark dystopia and the big, existential questions that too few people ask about our existence, our nature, and what it means to be human. Whatever you expect from an Alex Garland movie, he will always assuredly go in another, more thought-provoking direction. He does all that in Civil War, but grounds it in a scenario that’s all too plausible. Read on to see what critics are saying about it, and why Civil War is so disturbing.

Matt Zoller Seitz – Roger Ebert:

“How utterly bizarre, you might think. And in the abstract, it is bizarre. But “Civil War” is a furiously convincing and disturbing thing when you’re watching it. It’s a great movie that has its own life force. It’s not like anything Garland has made. It’s not like anything anyone has made, even though it contains echoes of dozens of other films (and novels) that appear to have fed the filmmaker’s imagination.”

Nick Schager – Daily Beast

“When democracy dies, Garland suggests, anarchy is sure to reign. Plumbing ongoing national fears by lacing his action with the viruses that infect our body politic—from tribalism, xenophobia and racism to class resentments, petty jealousies, and revolutionary zealotry—the writer/director captures the sad, volatile ugliness of the here and now by examining it from an askew angle. Moreover, he conveys the tragedy of it all in the agonized countenance of Dunst, which exudes a weariness and sorrow that’s so profoundly inconsolable that it can only be relieved in one way, and which confirms (like Civil War itselfthat, at their best, pictures don’t just speak louder than words—they scream.”

Peter Howell – Toronto Star

“Garland maintains a mood of unreality that might be mistaken for satire or even indifference. The film would work better if the dramatic stakes were better defined. The acting is above reproach but apart from Lee’s regretful flashbacks about her wartime experiences and her fears that Jessie is following her down a dark road, there’s not much to relate to in simple human terms. The characters all seem to be operating randomly and from pure instinct. As frustrating as that can be sometimes to watch, it’s also probably an accurate representation of how a real U.S. civil war would play out in the 21st century.”

Dana Stevens – Slate

“In its vision of journalism as a form of amoral adventure-seeking, Civil War belongs to a long tradition of films about hardened war correspondents in far-flung places, movies like A Private War and The Year of Living Dangerously. But the fact that the carnage these reporters are documenting is homegrown shifts the inflection significantly. Suddenly it’s impossible to exoticize or otherwise alienate ourselves from the bloodshed onscreen, which makes us ask ourselves what we were doing exoticizing it in the first place. This effect of moral immediacy is Civil War’s greatest strength, and the reason it feels like an important movie of its moment even if it isn’t a wholly coherent or consistently insightful one.”

Lindsey Bahr – Associated Press

“Dread permeates every frame, whether it’s a quiet moment of smart conversation, a white-knuckle standoff or a deafening shootout on 17th street. And as with all Garland films it comes with a great, thoughtful soundtrack and a Sonoya Mizuno cameo. Smart, compelling and challenging blockbusters don’t come along that often, though this past year has had a relative embarrassment of riches with the likes of “Dune: Part Two” and “Oppenheimer.” “Civil War” should be part of that conversation too. It’s a full body theatrical experience that deserves a chance.”

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  • Editorial