Monday, December 06, 2021

Encounter, on Amazon

If you have seen Saul Bass’s Phase IV, you know you should always be distrustful of insects. If you have seen either classic version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, you also know you shouldn’t trust anyone. Rogue Marine Malik Khan has either seen them both or he doesn’t need to. In contrast, most of the rest of the world is unaware of galactic micro-invasion underway in Michael Pearce’s Encounter, which premieres this Friday on Amazon Prime (following a brief theatrical run).

We should all stock up on bug spray, just like Khan. Apparently, a species of alien insects rode a meteor to Earth. To conquer the planet, they bite human hosts, releasing parasites into their blood stream that will take control over their bodies. Most of the population remains blissfully ignorant, but Khan is in the know. To stay safe, he must make his way to a secret desert base, but he would never leave his two young sons behind.

To rather complicate matters, he does not have custody, nor has he been present very much in recent years. It would be hard to explain and his ex-wife probably wouldn’t believe him anyone, assuming she isn’t already infected, so he just shows up and takes them one night.

There is a big twist that we’re apparently supposed to keep secret, but it drastically alters the complexion of the film, quite early in the going. However, the edginess of Riz Ahmed’s performance really helps sell it. Khan clearly isn’t someone you would want to screw-around with or even good-naturedly rib. Yet, his love for his sons (well-played by Aditya Geddada and Lucian-River Chauhan) is evident in his every action and facial expression.

There are some visual effects that Bass, the master designer, would have approved of (or so we suspect), especially in the opening prologue. Cinematographer Benjamin Kracun definitely helps heighten the moodiness. Both Octavia Spencer and Rory Cochrane provide solid support as the mismatched duo chasing Khan. However, Pearce and co-writer Joe Barton take the film in a direction that might be unsatisfying for many genre fans.

Still, even though the circumstances of their stories are radically different,
Encounter might pair well with John Carpenter’s Starman, which is also a chase-road movie, with alien elements. It is definitely character-driven genre-filmmaking, even more so than Pearce’s previous, Beast. Recommended for Ahmed’s work and the distinctive sadness it produces, Encounter (an unfortunately pedestrian title) premieres this Friday (12/10) on Amazon Prime.