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Encounter (2021) – Review: A Decent Genre-Blending Film That Is Buoyed by Another Solid Riz Ahmed Performance

December 10, 2021

Quick thoughts – Grade – C+ – Riz Ahmed is excellent as always, and so are Aditya Geddada and Lucian-River Chauhan. But, Encounter never fully gels as it tries to juggle multiple genres, and never fully explores either. The idea is worth tackling, but Encounter doesn’t stand alongside movies like Take Shelter or Bug (which both star Michael Shannon), which fully commit to the trials and tribulations of their characters. 

After Riz Ahmed and his film Sound of Metal had success with Amazon Studios last year, it was exciting to hear that he’d be back in another Amazon backed film that centered around Ahmed protecting his children from a group of aliens, who after coming to earth on a meteor, burrow themselves into the world’s populace and take them over (think Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or Bug). What’s even more exciting is that director Michael Pearce completely reconsidered the character after Ahmed approached him about being in the film, and the character went from being in the directors words, a “Default White Anti-Hero,” to being a warm, steely, and laser focused killing machine, who is clearly unhinged. An added bonus to casting the Academy Award nominated actor, is that Aditya Geddada and Lucian-River Chauhan were brought in to play his kids. Both child actors are excellent, and they have wonderful chemistry with Ahmed. The best moments in Encounter feature the family spending time together, and it makes you wish the movie was 95% focused on them in a car, listening to K-pop. 

The biggest problem with Encounter is how the plot elements never totally gel. In the beginning of the film, we are treated to footage of a meteor hitting the earth, and the supposed fallout is that humanity is slowly being taken over by body snatching aliens. Shortly after the invasion, we are introduced to a former marine named Malik (Ahmed), who is holed up inside a dark hotel room, and preparing a survival kit loaded with bug spray, guns, and more weapons. When he leaves the seedy hotel (after smooshing several bugs with a bible he found in the room), he doesn’t go off to battle the alien threat, instead he travels to his ex-wife’s home, kidnaps his two children,  and in his words, takes off on “a crazy road trip with your cool ass dad!” It would be a shame to spoil the rest of the film, just know that it involves gun fights, paranoia, and solid cinematography by Benjamin Kracun (Beast, Promising Young Woman), which captures the wide open expanses of Nevada and surrounding plains and valleys. The movie falls apart when all the cards are laid on the table, but, if you are a fan of Ahmed, Encounter is worth a watch. 

It will be interesting to see how audiences handle the expectations created in the trailer, which makes Encounter out to be an Uber tense alien flick that features Ahmed kicking butt. It wasn’t an issue for me, as I’ve learned to be flexible and appreciate the experience, which may or may not have been marketed to get people in the seats. But, for people looking for Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Taken, they’ll either be disappointed, or annoyed that their expectations weren’t met (which seems odd, but it happens a lot). Either way, there are things to like about Encounter, just don’t expect a totally connected narrative. 

Final thoughts: Encounter is based on an interesting idea, but the script by Joe Barton and Michael Pearce doesn’t know how to tie together the various genres in a way that feels organic. At times it feels like they are jackhammering home their ideals, which takes away from another solid Riz Ahmed performance.

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