Encounter (2021) poster

Encounter (2021)


USA. 2021.


Director – Michael Pearce, Screenplay – Joe Barton & Michael Pearce, Producers – Dimitri Doganis, Derrin Schlesinger & Piers Vellacott, Photography – Benjamin Kracun, Music – Jed Kurzel, Visual Effects – Goldcrest Post Production (Supervisor – Chris Forrester) & Time Based Arts (Supervisor – Sheldon Gardner), Special Effects Supervisor – Jeremy D. Hays, Production Design – Tim Grimes. Production Company – Raw Productions/Big Indie Pictures/Automatik.


Riz Ahmed (Malik Khan), Lucian-River Chauhan (Jay Khan), Aditya Geddada (Bobby Khan), Octavia Spencer (Hattie Hayes), Rory Cochrane (Shepherd West), Misha Collins (Dylan), Janina Gavankar (Piya), Brennan Keel Cook (Dwight McKinley), Bill Dawes (Kurt McKinley), Keith Szarbajka (Grant Healy), Shane McRae (Lance Dunn), Stefan S. Sims (Ernie), Antonio Jaramillo (Raul)


Malik Khan, a soldier who has been working special ops for the US military, sneaks his two young sons Jay and Bobby out of from their mother’s home in Oregon. He starts driving, heading into the Nevada desert. Due to his operations in the military, he has become aware that alien microorganisms are invading the Earth. Insects carry the microorganisms to infect humans where they spread through the body to take control of the host. He confers on the boys the urgency of the situation and means of dealing with the alien threat. However, a very different story is told by Malik’s parole officer Hattie Hayes and FBI agents who they regard Malik as a delusional individual with a history of mental illness who spend two years in jail after attacking a superior officer. The FBI believe that he has abducted the boys, possibly intending to kill them. A massive manhunt is mounted to apprehend Malik.

Encounter was the second film from British director Michael Pearce who had previously made the rural crime drama Beast (2017). Encounter made the rounds of a number of films festivals.

The film starts extremely well. The opening scenes give us a meteorite coming down to Earth, followed by a montage of insects and the microorganisms spreading – there are a great many images throughout of bugs flying and crawling, landing on people, being slapped away and the like. We first see Riz Ahmed in a motel room, surrounded by charts and documents, followed by his leaving and grabbing his two boys amid suggestions that he has been on secret undercover operations. We see him fleeing with great urgency – the map shows that he is heading for Groom Lake, which in UFO conspiracy circles is where Area 51 is located – while spraying them with bug spray, talking about the alien invasion, even attacking a police officer that pulls him over and seems to be under the control of the aliens.

This starts in well as a grounded, urgent seeming variant on the Body Snatchers film – there are undeniable similarities to The Invasion (2007), while the opening scenes with the spread of the organism remind of the spores descending in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). About 45 minutes in, what you had assumed to be an Alien Invasion film is turned on its head in a Conceptual Reversal Twist [PLOT SPOILERS] as we are introduced to parole officer Octavia Spencer and the investigating FBI agents who find the boys’ mother and her new husband tied up in the garage. It gradually becomes apparent that what we had assumed to be an alien invasion is in fact part of a Mad Person’s Delusion. Films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and their ilk created an incredibly paranoid fear about society being infiltrated by pod people – this takes it to a logical extreme where said paranoia is simply a mental illness.

Riz Ahmed, Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada
Riz Ahmed (front) and sons (l to r rear) Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada sets out driving on an urgent mission

The rest of the film abandons this initial misdirection and proceeds along the lines of an abducted child thriller and the complications as various persons cross paths with Riz Ahmed. Here the film becomes a tight thriller built around the intersecting parties as they seek to apprehend Ahmed and retrieve the boys. The concluding sections were filmed in the Eagle Mountain ghost town in California, which lends an eerily haunted and abandoned look to these scenes.

In the central role, Riz Ahemed gives a great performance – one that is controlled, caring and responsible for his boys, and filled with a fierce single-minded energy. This is no cliché crazy person performance – indeed the film’s central conceptual reversal would not have worked if there had been anything in Ahmed’s performance that did not convince he was 100% certain about his mission.

(Nominee for Best Actor (Riz Ahmed) at this site’s Best of 2021 Awards).

Trailer here

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