Release Date – 3rd December 2021, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 48 minutes, Director – Michael Pearce
Former Marine Malik (Riz Ahmed) takes his two sons (Lucian-River Chauhan, Aditya Geddada), in the middle of the night, on a trip through the desert plains of America to escape a body-consuming alien invasion.
Perhaps the biggest mystery within Encounter, the latest from co-writer (with Joe Barton) and director Michael Pearce, is that of whether there’s actually meant to be a sense of mystery of ambiguity within the film. While the piece certainly starts off this way, with former Marine Malik (Riz Ahmed) taking his two young sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), from their home – which he has not been present in for some time – in the middle of the night to escape what he claims to be an alien invasion with lifeforms from another world taking over people’s bodies. We appear to see what he sees, brief glimpses of strange occurrences in people’s eyes to give away that they are no longer themselves, however gradually this line appears to be dropped. Initially in favour of asking whether Malik is going crazy or if what he’s actually seeing is real.
As he and his ten and eight year olds travel through the quiet American desert plains the audience is met with a narrative of facts rather than what could be engaging mystery. They’re offered a conspiracy theorist protagonist who offers answers to unasked question in his various ravings as he offers explanations as to why he’s taking his children to a secret bunker where they’ll be safe from the threat which surrounds them. As scenes change from focus on the aliens to family there’s a tonal shift from a modern indie-sci-fi flick to a genre-mixture family dynamic drama and then back to the more science-based monologues and elements. All while various authorities, and Malik’s PA (an underused and often forgotten about Octavia Spencer), chase after the trio believing Malik to be a danger to his children, particularly when believed to be holding weapons.
It’s at this point where the family bonding element feels to be completely dropped as the case appears to simply be that the increasingly agitated Malik is indeed a conspiracy theorist. More elements are dropped along the way, alongside brief narrative points which feel, much like a number of elements, quickly moved on from with little engagement or impact despite the potential that they hold. There are certainly a handful of scenes with plenty of potential, and Ahmed does his best with the material that he’s provided with, however the tonal shifts cause some scenes to feel underdone and lacking due to the difference to what has come beforehand.
There’s a lot being dealt with and instead of questions regarding the characters the biggest question that comes into play, particularly in the busy and slight drawn-out final stages, is what the film is actually about. With so much presented as fact there’s little room for questioning as things develop and are simply explained to you in the moment before moving on to the next stage of this off-kilter factual flow road-trip through the desert.
There’s potential within Encounter, however its construction and tonal shifts prevent it from becoming something truly engaging and mysterious, despite the efforts of the cast.