TIFF Review: Encounter Is An Intriguing, Intense Thriller Led By Riz Ahmed

If Riz Ahmed is in the leading role of a film, then the audience can at least rest assured that his performance will be one worth watching. Such is the case in Encounter, a film with sci-fi elements that ultimately unfolds to become a tantalizing psychological drama with an emotional center. Directed by Michael Pearce from a screenplay by him and Joe Barton, Encounter weaves a mysterious tale that is filled with intensity, high stakes, incredibly deep and nuanced performances, and changing perspectives.

A former marine, Malik Khan (Ahmed) is watching for signs of an alien invasion, one that is quietly overtaking the country following a meteor shower that brought a parasitic creature to Earth. Preying on people through insect bites and burying itself deeply in their skin, Malik is worried because these aliens can presumably take over a host’s body without anyone being the wiser. It’s under this line of thinking that he creeps into his ex-wife Piya’s (Janina Gavankar) house at night to take his two sons — Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada) — to safety, believing Piya has been infected. 

Related: Riz Ahmed Fights To Save His Sons In Encounter Movie Trailer

Where the film excels is in its changing perspectives. With Malik, the audience comes to see him as a protective father who wants to save his sons from the parasitic invasion that is quietly taking over the world. To some extent, Encounter tackles the complexities of the psyche and the way in which the system at large fails to provide care to those who are in need of it. While the story pivots, the film retains its survivalist tale in the midst of an attack, though the shifting point of view deepens the premise to an extent that wouldn’t have been the same had it remained on the same track from the get-go. 

As Malik’s perspective widens to show what’s really happening, it’s his son Jay (his name undercuts the character’s South Asian roots) whose previous image of his father — that of a man on active marine duty — is tinged with a rose-colored view and romanticizing of heroism. It sharpens later, shaping how he views the world after learning the truth. His newfound understanding forces him to grow up too soon and to see Malik in a different light, one that is affected by Jay’s harrowing experience. The performances by both Ahmed and Chauhan are exceptional in their own ways. Ahmed has shown how capable an actor he is before and Encounter sees him take on yet a different kind of role, one he tackles with fervor. His eyes and body language showcase fear, confusion, and nervousness as he transitions from perceived calmness to desperation and resolve. The fact that Chauhan matches the skills and nuance of Ahmed speaks to the young actor’s abilities. 

All that said, the momentum of the film starts to wane a bit after a few pertinent reveals. While the story attempts to stick with Malik and his sons’ journey, the involvement of federal agents (led by Rory Cochrane) puts a dent in the emotionally-charged story. A good chunk of Encounter is dedicated to the agents’ attempts at finding Malik — with the help of Hattie (Octavia Spencer), the only person he trusts and who genuinely wants to help — and it threatens to derail the more intimate perspective and journey that is so effectively utilized at the start of the film. Pearce manages to at least maintain some of that intimacy and sense of isolation from society by keeping most of the action to deserted roads, dry, flat landscapes, and abandoned homes in the middle of nowhere. All of this works to intensify the eeriness of the film, which never forgets to showcase Malik's point of view and his reasoning.  

The result is a psychological thriller with sci-fi elements that is deeply engaged with its main characters, their familial connection, and how their trust evolves and reckons with the reality of their situation. And while the drama gets the wind knocked out of its sails after introducing other characters, Encounter gets in plenty of emotional, nuanced scenes between Malik and his sons that become the beating heart of this often unsettling, uneven, yet strangely mesmerizing film. 

Next: Riz Ahmed & 9 Other New-Age Actors Whose Music You Should Check Out

Encounter had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2021. It will get a limited theatrical release on December 3 and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video on December 10. The film is 108 minutes long and is rated R for language and some violence. 

from ScreenRant - Feed

Post a Comment