Well to say this film went into the unexpected might not quite sum up completely as writers Joe Barton and Michael Pearce, whom directs as well, take us on a road trip journey of science fiction – adding in a very personal side to the lead character, that at first is just thought of as being a crazy person, but it really goes much deeper than that.
Malik Khan (Riz Ahmed) is a ex-Navy Seal/Marine who is on a mission. But not the kind you would think it would be like the ‘too busy saving the world’ kind so he rarely gets to see his sons, who live with their mom Piya (Janina Gavankar), and her new husband Dylan (Misha Collins), but as young boys do, they miss him dearly, and vise versa. One night Malik shows up unexpectedly and persuades his two young sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), to come with him but won’t explain the urgency of why or where they are going to his them. He has convinced himself and in short, tries to convince his sons that something has happened, something more important than the initial mission apparently, or rather, the ‘mission’ has come to their home.
Malik’s mission as he finally explains it while on the run is this. A comet has brought alien micro-organisms to Earth, and the organisms use mosquitos to transplant themselves into humans where they can manipulate their behaviour. While it might sound far-fetched saying it out loud, think about it, mosquitos do carry things. So in essence he makes it feel very real to them and even somewhat to us, the audience, as he tells his kids, though they might not have observed it first hand, but the aliens had already infected their mom, and it was only a matter of time before she in turn infects them. So Malik is taking Jay and Bobby to a base where they will be safe, while, in the meantime, their mother has reported them missing, and there is an all out alert for Malik for kidnapping. The only person he has trusted so far is the person he has to report and check in with for the past few years, Hattie (Octavia Spencer), and even she is baffled and confused by what he is doing, and while she keeps noting to those hunting for him, how this isn’t really him and he would never hurt his boys. This is where I started to realize what the deeper part of the film was, and it’s clear that Malik is delusional, traumatized and suffering from some sort of PTSD. And it seems the boys are picking up on this as well.
Honestly, Riz Ahmed once again proves once again that he will always pick roles that challenge him and that he somehow pulls off without a blip as he lives up to his reputation of engaging an audience with an intense, committed performance. As well, the kids are scene-stealers with both of the young actors showing real intensity and just the right amount of kid-cuteness to make it all realistic. The long desert cinematography was all quite encompassing aside from the three leads and their obvious chemistry as a family.
This is a hard one to put a label on as yes, it’s Sci-Fi, but it’s underlying tension of what is real and what isn’t, keeps you well alert long after whatever you realize is actually going on. It’s also very much about the bond between a parent and children. It also handles a surprisingly hard subject of PTSD in a such a sympathetic and realistic manner when Hattie is speaking for him, yet the others think he’s going to hurt the kids, it’s done so well, but also in the most different original manner ever. Yet somehow it all works, as there is tension, love, aliens and a road trip all in one film. Colour me Alien-rated as I quite enjoyed this for it’s originality of idea and how that idea was told.
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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR
“Encounter” will be in theaters December 3, 2021 for a limited release // Coming to Amazon Prime on December 10, 2021