ENCOUNTER Movie Poster | ©2021 Amazon

ENCOUNTER Movie Poster | ©2021 Amazon

Rating: R
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Lucian-River Chauhan, Aditya Geddada, Rory Cochrane, Shane McRae, Janina Gavankar, Misha Collins, Keith Szarabajka
Writers: Joe Barton and Michael Pearce
Director: Michael Pearce
Distributor: Amazon Studios
Release Date: December 3, 2021

ENCOUNTER is a movie that’s hard to discuss in specifics without spoiling most of it.

At the start, an ominous comet streaks through sky. It touches down in a North American forest, where the insects are shown busily devouring each other in close-up. Meanwhile, in a town, a tiny, weird creature buries deep into a human’s skin.

Former U.S. Marine Malik Khan (Riz Ahmed) fears that microscopic-sized extraterrestrial organisms are taking over people, including his ex-wife Piya (Janina Gavankar), who now has a new boyfriend (Misha Collins). Malik therefore goes in the dead of night to see his sons, ten-year-old Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and slightly younger Bobby (Aditya Geddada), hoping to rescue them from the alien pandemic. Even though they haven’t seen their dad in two years, both boys are delighted to go on a road trip with him.

This goes in an unusual direction, putting stress on Malik, Bobby, and most of all Jay.

The screenplay by Joe Barton and the film’s director, Michael Pearce, does a good job of handling ambiguity. Too often, movies that want to keep us guessing get pretentious, incoherent, just plain dull, or some combination of these. ENCOUNTER remains reliably propulsive.

This is partly because Ahmed, Chauhan and Geddada are all compelling, separately and together. We may have questions about the bigger picture here, but there’s no arguing with the film’s realism when it comes to being in a car with two fractious little boys.

Ahmed always has multiple layers in play, giving us a loving father, a concerned tactician, and a convincing fighter. Chauhan and Geddada have a great sibling bond, with Chauhan also showing incremental maturity as ENCOUNTER continues.

Octavia Spencer and Rory Cochrane give nicely restrained performances as two people who become involved with what’s happening.

Pearce also shows us a lot of beautiful desolation. Desert landscapes and abandoned housing tracts have wonder and menace. He also achieves a superb overhead shot where we’re momentarily not sure if we’re seeing converging insects or motor vehicles.

Once we understand what’s really happening in ENCOUNTER, the film starts to feel familiar. This isn’t because it’s imitating anything specific, but simply because it’s driving over some well-traveled road in story terms.

Even so, Ahmed and Chauhan keep us invested all the way through, and the insect imagery has lasting impact.

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