The opening of Encounter makes you consider whether this will bend genres. Before the title card flashes, an asteroid is seen barreling towards the earth. Malik (Riz Ahmed) witnesses the event from a decrepit locale, quickly putting together a plan to save the world from these invading insects. From here, Malik takes himself on a road-trip to safety in a story that paints a picture of the violent struggle of an ex-solider.
Malik, before taking off straight to shelter in the arms of the military, picks up his two children, Bobby and Jay (Aditya Geddada and Lucian-River Chauhan, respectively). He stuffs the frightened kids into his car, pouring love and pride onto them for remembering they have the coolest dad and regaling them with the dangers of the infestation. But Mailk’s story isn’t as real as he believes it to be, and before long, the frantic hero is revealed to be a confused liability who’s incidentally kidnapped his own children.
Michael Pearce made waves with 2017’s Beast, and for this feature, he brought The Ritual’s Joe Barton to-cowrite. There’s a lot of subtle beauty in what they’ve created, allowing for sympathy to be thrown at a potentially dangerous man who upended his family. What’s frustrating is how quickly this movie shows all its cards. It doesn’t take long for it to be obvious what’s really happening, and it takes the steam right out of the core concept. Clocking in at almost two hours, there’s just not enough left when Malik’s intentions are identified to keep the tension or drama rolling.
“Encounter quietly indicts “the system” and, in doing so, tells a tragically beautiful story about its victims.”
There’s no sense, however, that this story was trying to be a white-knuckle thriller of heroes trying to rescue children. It’s intense, sure, but it’s more of a tragic tale of a broken man and the unchecked love he has for his two boys. Malik is a former special forces soldier, who was lapped up after being spit out by the foster-care system. Having been spit back out by the military, he’s a lost man struggling with mental illness and violent tendencies. Ahmed, as usual, delivers a striking performance of a tragic character just trying to do what he thinks is best. While Geddada is beyond charming, Chauhan’s growth from an excited child to a reluctant man adds weight to the character arc that keeps the momentum alive.
Encounter quietly indicts “the system” and, in doing so, tells a tragically beautiful story about its victims. It’s climax jarringly pivots to a comment about a heavily armed white militia battling a POC soldier but doesn’t have the gusto to make a comment about it.
Michael Pearce has gathered beautiful performances, gorgeous set pieces, and gut-wrenching themes, and organized them into a mellow tale of a struggling man. Though his effort doesn’t come together as the most memorable road-trip through one of America’s cracks, Encounter’s soft approach to intense themes has enough to prove what Pearce and his cast can do. Much of the weight is carried by the core cast, and while they haul it with ease, I wish they’d gotten more work to do with the movie playing its cards a bit closer to the chest.