Directed by Michael Pearce
Written by Michael Pearce and Joe Barton
Starring Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Janina Gavankar, Rory Cochrane, Lucian-River Chauhan, Aditya Geddada
Whether in our daily lives or watching a character’s journey unfold, fear is a quintessential element we find ourselves drawn. It elicits a tactile feel, in which we don’t trust what’s in front of our eyes; we react, we feel and yet, this feeling is from a distance and numbing. Michael Pearce’s “Encounter” starts with this in mind; a visual cacophony of quick images, mad dashes around a room with which we ensure our self-preservation.
With an exciting premise, it is easy to see why “Encounter,” which hits a limited number of screens today and streams on Amazon Prime starting December 10th, attracted Riz Ahmed. Ahmed, who wowed audiences in 2020 with “The Sound of Metal,” stars as Malik Khan, a Marine Corps veteran trying to protect his kids from an impending alien invasion.
Along with co-writer Joe Barton, Pearce’s story borrows elements from Ridley Scott’s “Alien” and combines them with elements from Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” “Encounter” is very much about a father trying to do right by his family. Ahmed sells the character; however, as new characters and situations present themselves, we become less interested in the how’s and why’s of Malik’s story as his world drifts toward oblivion. It’s not to say that the film’s second act isn’t unimportant to the tale; however, the momentum lulls for a bit with such a solid first act. What that world transforms into, hits at the heart of a national epidemic.
Octavia Spenser as Hattie is a key to Malik’s past and, ironically, his future; she is observant, perhaps a bit flippant, and one gets a sense that she enjoyed the role. However, Spenser is underused for as important a key as she plays in the story. She is joined by Rory Cochrane, who starred in the recently released “Antlers” as Shepard West. Both Hattie and Shepard are two halves of the same character, both becoming more present in the third act.
The nature of “Encounter” delights with what lurks in the shadows of night, a hallmark of the tension Pearce builds in the adrenaline-fueled first act. We don’t know what to expect, though as day turns to night, cinematographer Benjamin Kracun’s focus shifts to an unexpected brightness and the film’s focus becomes a bit clearer for the characters. This unexpected sharpness plays into the fatherhood theme.
Malik is confronted with his fears run amok. Ahmed is fully committed to the journey. Because we’ve seen Malik in his environment, the drama sags in the middle, finding a soft middle ground in the third act. Even so, “Encounter” leaves one wanting more out of the film as it abandons some aspects in favor of others.
As a double entendre, Frank Herbert was right: “fear is the mind-killer.” Even with the wonky story transitions and a strong showing from the cast, “Encounter” can’t fully grasp the moodiness of the first act, turning what should be a solid story of fatherhood and family into a made-for-streaming film.
R, 118 minutes, Amazon Studios/Film 4