From: Silver Screen

REVIEW: ‘Encounter’ explores the dangers of the unseen

REVIEW: ‘Encounter’ explores the dangers of the unseen
Michael Pearce's "Encounter," starring Riz Ahmed.

The sci-fi thriller “Encounter,” from director Michael Pearce, perfectly balances razor-sharp tension and deep-seated emotional connection. While the powerful performances make for a worthwhile piece of entertainment alone, the sound design additionally makes the film a thrilling work of art.

For a world that remains obsessed with the threat of the coronavirus, “Encounter” has a deep resonance. A decorated marine, Malik Khan (Riz Ahmed), races to rescue his young sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), from the unseen invasion of a small parasitic alien that travels through seemingly innocuous bug bites. As the boys follow their father to his base, they slowly begin to realize their father isn’t being completely honest with them, forcing them to leave their childhoods behind. 

The entire film vibrates with palpable tension. By focusing on tiny instances of violence — like a mantis eating a smaller bug or moths dying in a bug zapper — Pearce creates a stark contrast between the desperate flight of the protagonists and the daily happenings of the rest of the world. His decision to use sound, making the struggles of a wasp seem as significant as the protagonists, also work to increase the tension of every scene. The movie keeps you suspended between the fantasy of alien invasion and the dawning realization of humanity’s darkness. 

Although the pacing at times feels choppy, jolting between intensity and calm sweeping scenery, the script is masterful in its understanding of the audience. 

Writers Pearce and Joe Barton do a fantastic job of littering their script's with red herrings, convincing the viewer that they’ve figured it out and know how the movie ends, but then completely flipping those assumptions on their head. 

The film also makes captivating narrative choices, placing the customary thriller twist about midway through the film rather than at the end, so the viewer is not only experiencing the realization of the twist but also the fallout. Octavia Spencer’s performance as Hattie is a perfect emotional proxy as she masterfully inhabits her character with the grace and ease indicative of her work. 

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Ahmed also gives an outstanding performance as Malik and creates a deeply sympathetic character through his nuanced and touching performance. Although Malik’s dialogue is occasionally vaguely reminiscent of a ‘90s cartoon action hero, Ahmed’s earnest performance rescues the character from any cliche moments, making them so forgivable as to be forgettable. 

Geddada gives a nuanced performance as Bobby, especially considering his young age and the fact that this is his first feature film. He pulls off the dramatic moments without a hitch while providing needed tension breaking with well delivered one-liners. 

Chauhan, however, is the true stand out of this film and it's his performance as Jay that takes center stage. He is not only able to hold his own among seasoned and award-winning actors like Ahmed and Spenser but even manages at moments to outshine them. While the film is meant to revolve around Malik’s struggle to save his sons, it’s Jay’s story that feels like the film’s beating heart due to the young actor’s strong performance. 

The film would be incomplete without the spectacular work of the sound department, who have already snagged a British Independent Award nomination for Best Sound. The sound design is the heart of the film’s masterful suspense, using even the smallest of sounds like a moth catching fire in a bug zapper, or the sound of someone falling back and hitting their head on pavement, that causes an entire room to collectively catch their breath. 

It should be noted that since “Encounter” deals extensively with pathogens and insects, it is absolutely not for squeamish filmgoers, especially those suffering from insectophobia. “Encounter” also does not shy away from visceral depictions of violence that could make even a seasoned slasher fan cringe. 

Barring that, “Encounter” is a thriller that well understands how to balance along the razor’s edge of suspense and horror in a world consumed by invisible enemies that threaten individuals just as much as the general public. 

“Encounter” was released in theaters on Dec. 3, and is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video Dec. 10.

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