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'Encounter' Review: Riz Ahmed delivers in Micheal Pearce's gritty disaster flick

A family drama with specks of sci-fi that impresses at the start, but spoils it by stretching the climax
UPDATED DEC 10, 2021
Riz Ahmed in a still from 'Encounter' (Amazon Prime Video)
Riz Ahmed in a still from 'Encounter' (Amazon Prime Video)

Contains spoilers for 'Encounter'

'Encounter' is a Riz Ahmed show all the way. He's explosive, volatile, and is always in high trauma. His introduction shows his muscular self lying on a bed where the wallpaper has creepy crawlies attempting to make their way inside his dingy motel room. What follows gives off the impression that he's prepping to take down a quintillion insects who are actually non-terrestrial microorganisms from outer space. It's believable as he sprays bug spray to repel the invaders, or for better clarity, parasitical beings that take control of humans.

It's believable that Amazon Prime Video's disaster flick until director Michael Pearce decides to delve into the psyche of Ahmed's Malik Khan, a former decorated marine. The aliens, that are revealed to have made their way to earth are nothing more than figments of his ridiculously vivid imagination that makes him believe he's living in an infected world. It's a dirty trick that his mind's played, but for a man with mental health issues, it's a believable thing and Pearce brings it out quite beautifully. It's almost nailed except for the dragged second half that sort of ruins 'Encounter'.


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So there's Malik, nabbing his sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada) in the wee hours of the night from their mother, Piya (Janina Gavankar), and her partner Dylan. Jay naturally has an aversion to his mother's newfound love, while Bobby is too young to understand what exactly's going on. When Malik tells his kids they're on a rescue mission to save the world, there's no reason to see why his kids didn't think it was a flimsy story in the first place. In his defense, Malik is doing what he should, his kids have done what they should, but he's off his rails and that forms the actual crux of the movie.

Pearce does the job of getting the chemistry between the characters and the tone of the story right. And as Malik's secrets unravel with Jay realizing it by the passing minute, the story just gets tenser. Octavia Spencer as Malik's parole officer plays her role with a lot of grace and sympathy and perhaps is the only person to believe in the "functioning lunatic" that others consider him to be. The plot points see Malik take on an old geezer and a state trooper mistaking them to be possessed-by-aliens survivors and that just lands him into more soup with the law.

In the end, it's all about being a family drama, that has specks of sci-fi to it. The invasion is a shroud, but it forms a key component in the film. 'Encounter' has the people doing their jobs to perfection, especially Ahmed. But the stretched climax works against it. We'd end this with a 2.5/5.

'Encounter' is available to stream on Amazon Prime.