FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE YET TO SEE ENCOUNTER, THIS IS A NON-SPOILER REVIEW.
There have honestly been so many alien invasion movies and television shows that have graced our screens, that it is hard to keep track of them. Many of these projects go the simple route; clinging on to the audience’s fascination and fears of extraterrestrials; having the human race duke it out with them in usually epic form. And then on a rare occasion, a film comes along and turns the alien invasion flick on its head through ingenious writing and innovation, like in Arrival. Now, I won’t go as far as to say that Encounter is anywhere close to the same quality as Dennis Villeneuve’s masterwork, but it certainly is a fresh take on this tired trope.
WHAT IS ENCOUNTER ALL ABOUT?
The movie follows Malik Khan, a man working for the military on a secret operation. We’re not really sure what he is up to, but we know he has information about what is going on with the Earth. And it has to do with insects invading our bodies. One night, after two years of being away from his sons, he appears in their room to snatch them away and take them on a “road trip”. At first, it’s all fun and games… but, then Malik tells them that he has come to rescue them from an alien invasion. And to not trust anyone who gets in their way.
Encounter starts off extremely disorienting, as you don’t really have any idea of what’s actually going on. But, I believe that works in the film’s favor, as you’re almost put in the shoes of these two boys; who are also just as out of the loop as we are. Some of the disturbing imagery in the movie will also throw you off, as we are subjected to shots of flying insects and creepy-crawlies getting inside human bodies. This is what Encounter does best; it gets under your skin and into your head almost immediately and never allows you a break from the psychological mayhem.
HOW IS THE CAST?
Riz Ahmed is exceptional in the leading role, playing an enigmatic, gristly army man who will not let anything get in his way. His character of Malik adds to the mystery of the movie because we don’t really know a whole lot about him until halfway through. The only thing we do know for sure is that he loves his two kids and will do anything to keep them safe. His sons, played by Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada are so good here, that you would forgive me for thinking they were actually related in real life; as their chemistry, as brothers feel so raw and authentic. Octavia Spencer shows up in the film as a CO of sorts for Malik; the Oscar-Winning actress is sorely underutilized but takes full advantage of her limited screen time.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ISSUES WITH ENCOUNTER?
I have two big problems with Encounter however, that stop it from becoming a real stand-out of the year. The first has to do with the twist. Now, do not get me wrong, I absolutely loved the twist and it really took this film in a vastly different direction than what I was expecting (which, admittedly, some viewers will not like). The issue here is, is that the twist is pretty much revealed to the audience around the halfway point, which is a disservice to the film because any tension-building in the latter half of Encounter is squandered. I was really hoping that there would be more twists and turns in the story near the end, to throw us in another tailspin, but alas. Pearce and Barton (the co-writers) should have really kept these revelations to themselves until a little later on in the film, to keep their viewers guessing.
That then leads me to my other issue; Encounter is such an understated film for most of its runtime; there’s not much in the way of big, memorable moments. And when the credits begin to roll and you start to look back on the events of the movie, you begin to realize that not all that much actually happened. I wish the filmmakers had added a few more bumps in the road, more moments of character development for the supporting cast, and even our lead… because where it stands now, this lean little picture can also feel a tad forgettable, because of these things.
IS IT STILL WORTH WATCHING?
Even so, I found Encounter to still be a highly original take on the “invasion flick”. It covers some heavy topics such as PTSD, mental health, and even vigilantism, that make it feel more timely and resonant. The movie is also elevated by its three main performances and the strong, authentic bond this family has with each other. One could only wish that the filmmakers had gone through one more draft, to tighten up the issues of their script… because this one could have been a real knockout.
Encounter will be Streaming on Amazon Prime on December 10th, 2021.
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