Just last year, Riz Ahmed wowed viewers with his stirring, Oscar-nominated portrayal of a drummer losing his hearing in Sound of Metal. His latest starring vehicle, Encounter from director Michael Pearce, nearly reaches the same level of greatness and serves as an exemplary showcase for his strong acting prowess.
In Encounter, Ahmed plays Malik Kahn, a discharged Marine on a mission to protect his two sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chaudhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada) from an alien threat. Parasitic bugs have landed on Earth to use human bodies as hosts and while the government isn’t making people aware of this issue and Malik can’t save everyone that crosses his path, the safety of his sons remains a priority. But once Hattie Hayes (Octavia Spencer), a figure in Malik’s troubled life, enters the picture, Malik’s grip on reality becomes put into question.
The opening sequence shows a parasitic insect making its way inside a person’s body and the bugs that seem to follow Malik and his sons wherever they go are accompanied by an ominous sound and creep out from the shadows. Yet, Malik suffering PTSD after his time in combat has one wonder if this alien plot is a figment of Malik’s fragile mind. Malik continuously turning on a dime, switching from hostility to undisturbed care for his children, only heightens that uncertainty. When he’s in tranquil mode, Ahmed’s manic eyes still show a man who could erupt at any moment.
As great as Riz Ahmed is at showcasing the various facets of his troubled protagonist, Lucian-River Chaudhan nearly steals the show as Malik’s eldest son Jay. He successfully goes toe-to-toe with the esteemed actor as Jay shows gradual fear and skepticism over whether his father is being truthful. Meanwhile, in typical Octavia Spencer fashion, the Oscar-winning actress leaves an impression as the kindly Hattie and, despite having a minuscule role, still has her own swift character arc.
In addition, the score by Jed Kurzel reflects the picture’s tonal juxtaposition. At times serene and at times doomy like something out of a horror film, Kurzel’s music serves as its own character and much like the acting, is a prime highlight.
Both a minimalist sci-fi pic and heart-wrenching father/son drama with a dash of horror elements, Encounter is a wonderfully twisty mix that, because of the big U-turns it takes, won’t work for everyone. Also, its climax does go on longer than necessary. But if anything, its attempt at being an unconventional genre-mesher, along with the set of committed performances, are enough to make this worth a watch.
This review is from the Toronto International Film Festival. Amazon Studios will release Encounter on December 3, 2021.
Photo courtesy of TIFF