TIFF 2021: ‘Encounter’ Is A Genre & Mind-Bending Miracle of a Film

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Encounter

Encounter is a science-fiction/drama/thriller film directed and co-written by Michael Pearce. It is produced by Amazon Studios and Film4. Veteran Marine Malik Khan (Riz Ahmed) has apparently seen evidence of an alien invasion that consists of parasitic organs that burrow under the victim’s skin. Malik absconds in the middle of the night with his sons Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), intending to return to his old military base to ward off the invasion. However, things may not be all that they seem…

This is only Pearce’s second film, but he shows a handle on genre and scope that is extremely impressive. Pearce and cinematographer Benjamin Kracun alternate between long tracking shots of cars racing across the desert and close-ups of insects crawling on walls and flesh. The opening sequence is also an eye-grabber, as the camera tracks a flaming meteor that falls to Earth, before shifting to the millions of parasitic beings that are contained within the meteor. Pearce has said that the sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a major influence on Encounter and that influence permeates the film, including Malik’s heightened paranoia and his insistence that his sons always carry a can of bug spray to ward off the predators.

The script by Pearce and co-writer Joe Barton shifts gears in the second act when Malik gets a call from a woman named Hattie (Octavia Spencer). Hattie turns out to be Malik’s parole officer-and the initial premise is called into question. As more characters enter the picture, including Malik’s former wife Piya (Janina Gavankar) to an FBI agent convinced that Malik is suffering from an intense bout of PTSD, the question remains: is Malik correct about the invasion or has he gone off the deep end? The film plays with this question, ultimately leaving it to the audience to decide which I think is the right move.

Ahmed’s performance is equal parts volcanic and magnetic, continuing the trend of complex characters he’s played since The Sound of Metal. Many of his lines are delivered in a pitch-perfect Southern drawl, which makes his outbursts of anger that much more explosive, and he often carries the thousand-yard stare of a man who’s seen horrors he is still struggling to comprehend-whether they come from a race of alien invaders or humanity itself. His rapport with Chauhan and Geddada is the beating heart of the film; the audience will see that alien invasion or not Malik genuinely cares for his sons. Scenes of Malik teaching his sons how to handle guns and risking his life to keep them safe from a pair of trigger-happy rednecks will leave viewers on the edge of their seats, and the final scene will rip your heart right out of its chest.

Encounter transcends genre boundaries to craft a heartfelt story about family and cements Riz Ahmed as one of the best actors working today. Fans of Ahmed’s previous work or sci-fi films like Ad Astra or Arrival will definitely want to check this film out. It truly has something for every film lover out there.

Encounter is playing at the Toronto International Film Festival and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video on December 10.

 

Encounter
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

Encounter transcends genre boundaries to craft a heartfelt story about family and cements Riz Ahmed as one of the best actors working today. Fans of Ahmed’s previous work or sci-fi films like Ad Astra or Arrival will definitely want to check this film out. It truly has something for every film lover out there.