Review: Encounter

Written and directed by Michael Pearce, co-written by Joe Barton, two brothers embark on a journey with their father, who is trying to protect them from an alien threat. Starring: Riz Ahmed, Lucian-River Chauhan, Aditya Geddada, Octavia Spencer, Rory Cochrane, Janina Gavankar and Misha Collins.

It’s more than likely that whatever your experience of this film turns out to be, it will be different than you expected. It sets such a strong tone of mystery, danger and intensity with its overt focus on detail in its opening, that even when the story develops, it never weakens. Michael Pearce takes the strengths of his last feature Beast and applies them even more satisfyingly here. The atmosphere touches upon sci-fi, horror and thriller, serving as a vehicle for a touching family drama. The location choices are phenomenal and provide absolutely stunning visuals. The direction and aesthetic quality are fantastic from start to finish, you have to hope it will get the big screen debut it so deeply deserves. A few of its shots feel like throwbacks to classic moments of cinema from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Pearce and Barton’s writing uses that blend of genres to subvert your expectations of its story, leading down a satisfying road. It brings a sincere level of emotion to the table, it’s honestly moving to watch this family’s relationship develop, and it handles some sensitive issues with a deft hand. It moves with a gripping pace and holds your attention extremely well. Its reveal however is perhaps not as surprising as it intends, it does give you plenty of clues to figure it out. Similarly the progression could be more evenly balanced, to not feel as though its stepping into its finale too early. However, it handles everything gracefully enough that a touch of predictability is not at all an issue.

Riz Ahmed has plentifully proved that he’s a brilliantly talented actor, and this is just yet another role to agree with that. It’s emotionally wrought, tightly wound and full of conflicting feelings, Ahmed moves around from one to the other seamlessly. It’s then a risk to have the rest of the film land on the shoulders of two child actors, but the casting did well to pick out these two gems. Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada make the perfectly brotherly duo. Geddada provides some light relief in their tense landscape, while Chauhan brings an emotional maturity and kindness rare for his age. The surprise here is the criminally minimal role handed to Octavia Spencer, she’s relegated to the bench for an unacceptable amount of time for an actor of her calibre. Granted, she’s great as usual in the moments she does get, but it’s a shame not to take full advantage of her presence.

Encounter is intense, stylish and stunningly shot, delving into a moving story of family, mental health and trauma. Riz Ahmed gives another superb performance which is lovingly supported by Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada. Its blend of genres and attention to detail are captivating to watch, its story and progression could potentially play out in a more balanced fashion but it’s a minor issue. It throws a few nods to iconic cinema along the way and truly deserves to be seen on the big screen to fully enjoy what this gem has to offer.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2021

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