Encounter tells the story of Malik (Riz Ahmed), a Marine Corps veteran who takes his kids on a “road trip” in the dead of night to try and protect them from an invasion of parasitic aliens. He aims to take them to a base where they can stay safe until a cure is discovered, but along the way he runs into trouble, and his abilities as a parent and protector are tested.
From a technical standpoint, Encounter is impressive. The cinematography works excellently to create a constant atmosphere of tension and dread, even in the most innocuous scenes and narrative spaces, bolstered by some unnerving sound design. The acting is strong across the board too, with Ahmed doing a great job as the troubled Malik, and Octavia Spencer providing some narrative support as Hattie, his compassionate parole officer.
However, the story itself is somewhat lacklustre. The road trip premise has a lot of potential for interesting character development, but, outside of a few short fights, nothing really happens to capture audience interest beyond the standard “family drama” fare: Malik gets annoyed at his kids, his kids get frustrated with him and each other. While the dynamic between the father and his boys is endearing, aided by Ahmed’s emotive performance, Encounter’s script doesn’t tread new ground and tries a little too hard to pull at the heartstrings, coming off as more corny than sincere.
The writers also try for some plot twists to spice up the narrative, but they’re neither more compelling than the face-value premises, nor sufficiently explored to give any additional depth. The lack of substance to the story also means that these changes to the status quo don’t do as much as the writers had perhaps hoped. The pacing in general also takes the impact out of any emotional beats, and at nearly 2 hours, the story definitely overstays its welcome.
Encounter is a film that tries very hard to be clever, with a lot of ambition behind it, but it ultimately falls short of being engaging, ending up being more uninspiring than anything else. It’s a shame, because the directing is very good and the script is supported by some great performances, but the writing is just not intriguing enough to match the rest of the film.
Encounter is released on Amazon Prime on 10th December 2021.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Encounter here: