Encounter Review: Riz Ahmed's compelling performance is the mainstay for this genre hopping thriller
Encounter starring Riz Ahmed in lead is a sci-fi thriller and an emotional family drama all at once. Read Pinkvilla's review of the film below.
Encounter Cast: Riz Ahmed, Aditya Geddada, Lucian-River Chauhan
Encounter Director: Michael Pearce
Encounter Stars: 3/5
In 2017, director Michael Pearce left me awestruck with his absolute genius when it comes to storytelling with his first feature, Beast. Jessie Buckey's performance and Benjamin Kračun cinematography still run fresh in my mind and hence the thought of Pearce teaming up with Riz Ahmed for Encounter had left me incredibly excited for the film. If anything we have learned from Ahmed's career, it's that he can express the most complex emotions without so much as saying a word. After his deservedly Oscar-nominated performance in Sound of Metal, Riz returns with a genre-hopping ride that sucks you into its intriguing tale from get-go.
The film follows Malik Khan (Riz Ahmed), a decorated marine who goes on a secret rescue mission to protect his sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada) after he believes that microscopic space invaders are taking over the planet and the only way to not get attacked by them is by spraying on mosquito repellants like deodorants and laying low in isolated places. Khan decides to whisk his sons overnight on a "fun road trip" while later mentioning that his ex-wife and their mom Priya (Janina Gavankar) has been infected and is a potential threat.
Much like Khan's boys, we are in for a surprise road trip that soon starts to wear off as an adventure ride but rather gets into a scary mode that seems more emotionally scarring than physical. In a parallel storyline, we also meet Octavia Spencer's parole office Hattie Hayes, who isn't giving up on people and certainly not Malik whom the police and government agents are carving out to be a threat after they assume him to have kidnapped his sons.
Encounter starts off as a sci-fi thriller that ticks all the boxes when it comes to building up its world with the eerie close-ups of insects, the strange-looking microbes that are supposedly attacking human bodies as hosts, in a vivid representation that convinces you a little more easily given the horrors of the past two years we have spent amid the pandemic, fighting a faceless enemy. Although Pearce's film has two sides to it and while the first one looks like you are waiting for a cataclysmic to happen, the other has a family drama written all over it as Riz's Malik tries hard to re-connect with his boys after being in touch with them through letters over the past two years. He's an out-of-touch parent, consumed by his own demons to realise how deadly too much sugar can be for a kid and that saving one's children at the cost of robbing their childhood may not be the best way to handle a situation.
Much of Pearce's film relies on Benjamin Kračun's ability to paint a picture of isolation and the feeling of being tucked away into a world that is a safe hideout for one's vulnerabilities. As Malik and his boys drive across the endless desert, Jay and Bobby remain unsure of the situation they are in, all while trying to figure out a way to understand the strange reappearance of their father whose idea of calling them "dude" and letting them play with a gun if they follow his rules doesn't make things any better. To add to Kračun's genius of capturing vast landscapes and giving it a haunting quality, there's also the paranoia-inducing score by Jed Kurzel that adds to the film's uncertainty, keeping your eyes wide-open like you're a part of the road trip too.
While the first half of the film tries to maintain that it's a sci-fi adventure, things truly change in the second half and not always for the best. The film focuses on Malik's family, especially his relationship with his sons more deeply in the second half and then there's a major twist that is further unfolded into the mix. In order to not give away the suspense, there's little I can say about the climax which according to me is the weakest point of the film. Clocked at almost two hours, Encounter feels like a film that could have been a much more potent thriller had it avoided segwaying into a few bits while already being in a genre-hopping zone. Although I do agree a few subtleties if you pick on those, such as the racial undertones are done extremely well.
In terms of performances, I have been convinced since the past few years now that Riz Ahmed is an actor who is truly changing the game with every movie. He has the ability to tap into characters that are layered and beyond challenging when it comes to conveying their conflicts. As Malik, Riz expresses vividly his emotional standing as he moves from being an unselfishly loving father to being a paranoid parent who hopes to shield his sons from all the evils and inner demons that he has faced. To add to Ahmed's compelling performance, he also has Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada who equally deliver amazing performances. As for Octavia Spencer though it's sadly a role that does not do justice to her talent.
Encounter starts off as a thrilling ride and till we are in the unknown of it all, it feels like a classic apocalyPtic film with an alien-invading plot. Although it soon changes gears to an emotionally charged family drama and the transition isn't all that smooth. It's a game of perspectives as we constantly move between the inner and outer worlds of the protagonist. If not for Ahmed and boys' performances combined with Pearce's ability to make a mediocre script look good, this film could have very well been an underwhelming ride enough to be completely forgettable.
A writer with 6 years of experience, addicted to coffee, films, and sarcasm. Currently exploring all things Hollywood...Read more