Starring Riz Ahmed and Octavia Spencer, Encounter is a tense genre-blurring drama directed by Beast director Michael Pearce. The film follows former Marine Malik (Ahmed) as he embarks on a rescue mission to save his two sons, Bobby (Aditya Geddada) and Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan), from mind-altering parasites only for their journey to become complicated.
From the outset, Encounter sets the stage for a modern ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers‘ horror with extreme close-ups of insects and the ever-constant presence in the environment – and around people. This stimulates a creepy-crawly sense of discomfort with a sense of secrecy building up the fear of an unspoken threat. Needless to say, Malik covers himself with insect repellent as if it is deodorant and sets out with one goal in mind: to rescue his sons from his estranged wife Piya (Janina Gavankar), whom he fears is infected. Initially overjoyed to see their father, the boys’ smiles and excitement turn to fear as Malik opens up about the mysterious parasites – with Jay being the more affected due to his love of comics and the extraterrestrial. But when Malik’s actions are reported as kidnap, his grip on sanity causes Jay to question his father’s motives while evoking a renewed sense of fear and divided loyalty.
The narrative starts well with Malik and his sons reuniting under the guise of a road trip to safety, but the tone drastically changes as the audience realises that there is more lurking underneath Malik’s fraught surface. This ties in with Encounter‘s subtle theme of perception versus reality, with intense encounters with a police officer and a secluded gunman playing on Malik’s paranoia and under-explored PTSD. This plot shift changes the pacing and style of Pearce and Joe Barton’s screenplay while redirecting its ongoing tension to a new and unforeseen threat. While this keeps audiences on the edge of their seats, this causes Encounter‘s early promise and dialogue to falter and frustratingly bow to convention, so it ultimately sways into something more familiar – a thriller with a coming-of-age element.
Despite this narrative shift, the compelling character performances are Encounter‘s biggest draw. Following his startling turn in Sound of Metal, Ahmed continues to thrive as a leading man with a layered performance while Spencer’s muted turn as Malik’s parole officer Hattie offers a rare sense of compassion. With most of the characters acting on their individual judgement, they become harder to resonate with so it is left to the film’s younger cast members to escape the crossfire between right and wrong. While Bobby represents the innocence in the narrative, Chauhan’s compelling performance as Jay allows the audience to see the truth of the situation and offer a mature yet rare voice of reason.
With an initial crowd-pleasing narrative, it is almost disappointing to see Encounter evolve into something more mainstream. Nonetheless, Pearce superbly controls the film’s consistent tension with Ahmed and Chauhan delivering standout performances.
Director: Michael Pearce; Joe Barton (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Rory Cochrane, Janina Gavankar, Lucian-River Chauhan, Aditya Geddada
Runtime: 108 minutes
Country: USA, UK