Directed by Michael Pearce.
Starring Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Rory Cochrane, Janina Gavankar, Lucian-River Chauhan, and Aditya Geddada.
Two brothers embark on a journey with their father, who is trying to protect them from an alien threat.
Michael Pearce burst onto the scene with his acclaimed 2017 debut Beast. His follow-up film, the Riz Ahmed-led Encounter is playing at the London Film Festival, so far earning far more middling reviews. It is an ambitious film focused on Ahmed’s Malik Khan, a marine veteran who has spent time in prison and away from his two young boys who he cares deeply about. Malik takes his two children on a road trip, which forms the core for the story.
The initial premise of the film indicates this will be a sci-fi thriller with Malik talking about a meteorite that has landed on earth with micro-organisms that take over their hosts. The film opens with a shot of a parasite spreading within its host indicating that this will be a key plot point. The choice of the title Encounter is certainly reminiscent of Spielberg’s iconic sci-fi Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
While the film leans heavily on this element especially for its first half, there are subtle hints dropped throughout that there may be more to the film than meets the eye. Ultimately the film plays on the concept that Malik’s mental state is unravelling and this keeps the audience guessing whether the extra-terrestrial aspects are real or a figment of his imagination.
The action is frenetic and well shot, with much saved for the film’s second half. It is a constantly tense affair but perhaps is too self-aware at points pushing for jump scares that don’t appear and hoodwinking the audience on multiple occasions, eventually this wears a bit thin and perhaps could have been executed better resulting in a few false payoffs. One particularly eerie sequence in an abandoned house is one of the best delivered takes on this. It’s unclear whether Pierce’s intention in these moments was to make the film more horror-like as it makes the tone somewhat muddled and takes away from some of the better elements particularly the performances.
As we’ve come to expect in recent years Riz Ahmed is terrific, completely selling the nuances of his character and unstable mental nature, his physicality in particular is tremendous checking himself for signs of the micro parasites. Lucian-River Chauhan as Jay, Malik’s son is an excellent foil giving an outsiders perspective on Malik’s condition and really conveying his discomfort and unease at what is going on as well as his efforts to care for his father. Octavia Spencer is perhaps slightly underused being introduced close to the midway mark and suffering perhaps from a lack of development, she cares about Malik and wants to make sure he is ok but her personal story feels brushed over and she feels more like a plot device in places than a fully formed character .
As the film shifts away from sci-fi mystery to a thriller in its second act it does lose a bit of steam but it is an intriguing unorthodox film that is hard to predict where it is going next . The quality of the action makes up for some of the shortcomings but it will be interesting to see how the audience reacts to some of the film’s approaches in particular to the end which may be seen as anti-climactic.
While Encounter does suffer from its genre shifts in the second half and some underwritten characters, as a Riz Ahmed showcase this is another illustration of why he is one of the most sought after and acclaimed actors working today, a completely different role to the ones he has played recently in The Sound of Metal and Mogul Mowgli. While it is certainly uneven it is worth a watch and shows Michael Pearce to have a distinctive voice and it will be intriguing to see which direction he goes for his next feature.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★