The Movie Waffler New to Amazon Prime Video - ENCOUNTER | The Movie Waffler

New to Amazon Prime Video - ENCOUNTER

encounter review
Believing Earth is being invaded by alien parasites, a marine absconds with his two young sons.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Pearce

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Lucian-River Chauhan, Aditya Geddada, Rory Cochrane

encounter poster

The marketing around Encounter would suggest it's a sci-fi road movie along the lines of Firestarter and Midnight Special, but in truth it's closer to more grounded fare like Steven Spielberg's Sugarland Express and Roger Donaldson's Smash Palace, movies in which parents abscond with their children, believing rightly or wrongly that they're doing the right thing.

The film opens in sci-fi territory with a sequence that details alien spores landing on earth during a meteor shower. These spores embed themselves in their earthly hosts, setting up what we assume will be a riff on the old Body Snatchers template.

encounter review

Our anti-hero, ex-marine Malik (Riz Ahmed), makes the same assumption. He's come across government documents that he believes suggest aliens are taking over humans and that as much as half of our population has succumbed at this stage. Desperate to keep them safe, Malik absconds with his two young sons - Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada) - from his ex-wife's home and drives off into the California desert.

What follows is a chase thriller along the lines of the movies I've mentioned above, but with the added element of ambiguity regarding whether Malik has genuinely uncovered an alien invasion or is simply mad. I that sense it shares a narrative setup with Ivan Kavanagh's recent thriller Son, which saw a mother flee with her son in the belief she was being chased by an evil cult.

encounter review

That ambiguity proves the film's greatest stumbling block as director Michael Pearce and his co-writer Joe Barton can't find a way to keep us guessing without relying on narrative cheats. Early on we realise we're in the hands of an unreliable narrator and the question becomes not whether we should trust the film's protagonist but whether we should put our faith in a filmmaker who has cheaply conned us at several points.

It's surprising to see Pearce struggle with this sort of storyline, as with his excellent debut Beast he managed to brilliantly pull off a similar setup. That movie featured a character whose intentions we weren't quite certain of and Pearce thrillingly stretched this idea out to its climax. Here, despite the misleading crumbs Pearce hopes we'll follow, we figure out the truth about Malik early on, leaving the rest of the film largely redundant.

encounter review

Pearce is bailed out to some degree by two things - the central performance of Ahmed, who does his best to humanise a wafer-thin character, and the landscape of the American South West, shot here with the fascination of a director making their first movie on American soil.

Yet while Ahmed is the movie's strongest card, his casting requires an extra element of suspension of disbelief. Maybe I'm overly cynical, but I doubt the US authorities would treat a fugitive Muslim man as affably as they do here, particularly in the light of some of Malik's actions. Octavia Spencer is wasted as Malik's parole officer, yet another of those Momma Bear roles filmmakers keep casting her in. Didn't anyone see Ma?

 is on Amazon Prime Video now.

2021 movie review