Director: Michael Pearce | 1h 48mins | Thriller, Drama
Former US Soldier Malik (Riz Ahmed) takes his two sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), on a cross country road trip in order to protect them from an alien parasite invasion.
After a groundbreaking 2020 for Riz Ahmed he followed his success up wonderfully in his most recent collaboration with Michael Pearce. Encounter boasts the high-conception of alien invasion, but through twists and turns and a keen eye for internal turmoil it quickly becomes a touching Drama about a father’s relationship with his two sons as well as a quiet look at PTSD and the true ramifications that it can truly have on an individual.
The film sets itself up as promised, with Malik in a seedy motel killing insects with bug spray and preparing for his ‘mission’. After their Mother supposedly gets infected by the mysterious parasite Malik collects his son’s in the middle of the night and sets off towards an Army Base in which Malik believes will hopefully be a safer option for his children. The film feels simple at this point, hinting at the extraterrestrial parasites and themes of apocalyptic survival, but this is first and foremost a film about family. Pearce is a director with quiet intelligence, something that shows beautifully as the three characters navigate the openness of the American country.
Encounter really is a film of two halves though. It flows through it’s narrative of alien invasion/family drama quite contently until we reach a boiling point of new information. Without spoiling such a wonderful change in pace to the film, let’s just say the most impressive part of Encounter is its ability to make us trust it’s story so easily, to then quickly reveal something that has been lying beneath the surface all along. It’s a wonderful achievement by screenwriter Joe Barton, who co-wrote the script with director Michael Pearce, that manages to shift so much momentum without losing any of the tone the film previously had. Encounter is a film of many qualities but the shift in story is it’s most impressive feat.
Riz Ahmed’s quality as an actor has been shown to us time and time again, his ability to express so much by doing so little does wonders for a character like Malik. A man with such internal struggle is managed so beautifully by Ahmed, who captures anguish perfectly while also coaxing us with stability for the majority of the film. Not all praise can go to Ahmed though, who shares the screen with Luciana-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada who both deliver great performances despite being surrounded by such acting quality. Chauhan is especially good, acting well above his age and taking the brunt of the film’s emotional conflict.
For a lot of the runtime what Pearce is doing with his film seems utterly simple, but the courage it takes to make such shifts throughout is enough to make you praise this film. Encounter may run out of steam every so often, but it creates such a beautiful dynamic between its three main characters, all with their own internal and moral struggles, while asking bigger questions about America’s willing ignorance that it’s impossible to not to be moved deeply by what you’re watching.