Directed by Michael Pearce. Starring Riz Ahmed, Lucian River-Mirage, Aditya Geddada, Octavia Spencer. Drama, US, 108 minutes.


Streaming on Amazon Prime from 10th December


Following up on his impressive 2017 debut BEAST, director Michael Pearce follows up with this drama that like the otherworldly menace at its heart is not what it seems. Beginning with a meteor falling towards the Earth, we then witness small microbes detaching and spreading out into the atmosphere looking for biological hosts looking to reside within. It is an arresting sequence, as visually stunning as it is creepy, setting out its invasion angle succinctly with its widescreen visuals somehow becoming more epic and unique the smaller and tighter we focus on something that manages to evade the naked eye. From here we meet Riz Ahmed’s paranoid Malik, holed up in a motel room covering himself in swathes of bug spray and checking his own eyes for signs of infection as city riots play out on the news in the background and meteorites streak down from the sky.


Armed with a gun and files detailing the biological invasion, Malik sets out to rescue his estranged children Jay and Bobby. On a cross country run to a base in the desert Malik and his two sons find themselves pursued by the authorities as young Jay slowly starts to uncover the truth about what is really going on.


Like BEAST, Pearce leads the audience along through a narrative that keeps them guessing to what is going on, especially regarding its leading character and his obsessive nature. The results may not be as electrifying this time around, but it is still a trip worth taking due in no small part to its strong stylish direction and impressive performances from its entire cast, especially its leading trio. As ever Riz Ahmed gives a totally committed performance, and he is well supported by Lucian River-Mirage and Aditya Geddada as his two sons, particularly River-Mirage as Jay. It is a trio of performances, ably supported by the rest of the cast, that help propel the film onwards, the relationship becoming more strained as events spiral out of their control as they venture further into the desert.


Certain plot revelations may derail the film for some, leading the film down a less fantastical path than what is first promised and heavily hinted at although sharp eyed viewers may see the signs and clues from the beginning. What could have been an interesting angle on a paranoid invasion thriller, like the many iterations of the Body Snatchers films through the years, becomes more and more of a family drama. The spectre of PTSD is raised but only on a surface level that seems to serve as more of a character motivation than a subject deserving of more serious study. It still manages to hold the attention however with a series of increasingly tense set pieces that raise the pulse. An impressive feat especially when you consider that the music of Phil Collins is heavily featured at one point.


While it may prove less than the sum of its parts, in the end ENCOUNTER is still a worthwhile watch. It may be hard to get over the direction that is taken but it still proves that as a director Pearce has style to spare and then some. His handling of action is very impressive as is his control of atmosphere, the sequence and staging of an attack on a policeman and his recovery being a case in point while the overhead filming of a salt flats car chase resembling a microscope biological slide stands out stunningly from the usual staging of such a scene. Ominous, emotional and successful in bringing an otherworldly feel to a familiar narrative ENCOUNTER just about manages to prove its worth despite overplaying its hand with some elements.


Iain MacLeod.


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