‘Encounter’ Is Sci-Fi Bait And Switch, But Still Watchable
I’m a sucker for sci-fi – good, bad, cheap, expensive, serious, corny, it doesn’t matter. If it’s sci-fi or sci-fi adjacent, I’ll give it a shot.
Which is why I was excited when I first heard about ‘Encounter,’ a sci-fi thriller featuring the almost always stellar Riz Ahmed. By the time the credits rolled, however, I was much less excited. I wasn’t mad, per se, I was just disappointed. Honestly, I felt duped.
‘Encounter’ is the story of Malik Khan (Ahmed), a former Marine who has reason to believe a parasitic alien race has invaded earth. Fearing for the safety of his two young sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), Malik returns home to check on them.
Under the guise of a fun weekend road trip, Malik and his boys pack up the car to make the long journey to an undisclosed government facility where they will be safe.
The further they go on their trip, the more dangerous the road and the demons – both internal and external – become.
Lucian-River Chauhan, Riz Ahmed, and Aditya Geddada in ‘Encounter.’ (© Amazon Content Services LLC)
Billed heavily as a sci-fi thriller, ‘Encounter’ actually ends up being much more a dramatic character piece with tinges of sci-fi and thrills mixed in, particularly for the first half. But once you get beyond that midpoint, the sci-fi elements lessen, and the thrills get fewer and further between, with the focus really becoming less about the alien threat and more about Malik and his relationship to the world and to his sons.
Fortunately for director Michael Pearce, he’s got Ahmed in this meaty lead role. Malik is a caring father, but also has a consistent edge to him that not even his sons are immune to. Ahmed makes Malik walk a very fine line between doting father and calmly dangerous alien hunter, and he does so with skill and subtlety.
The film also benefits from effective supporting roles by Chauhan and Geddada, who bring “old souls” to these young boys forced to grow up in a hurry, and Octavia Spencer (whose role is a spoiler in and of itself, hence no previous mention). And it’s always fun to see actors from favorite movies/TV shows show up – in this case Rory Cochrane and Misha Collins.
Aditya Geddada and Riz Ahmed in ‘Encounter.’ (© Amazon Content Services LLC)
Unfortunately, the further down the road Malik and his boys get, the more the story derails from its early promise. As early events unravel, you’re sucked into the story and right there with this family as they flee for sanctuary. It feels unique, like it’s building toward something grand. But as you get a fuller view of the events unfolding, it loses that uniqueness and feels vanilla and recycled.
Basically, it’s a steady climb to Specialtown for 45 minutes (give or take) and then a swift decline to Ordinaryville for the rest of the trip.
‘Encounter’ succeeds more often than it doesn’t, and Riz Ahmed shines like he always does, but there’s just not enough here to love.
★★½ of ★★★★★