Riz Ahmed shines in Amazon’s sci-fi drama ‘Encounter’


All the supporting characters, along with Octavia Spencer in a small role, have their moments of on-screen glory…writes Troy Ribeiro

Director: Michael Pearce, Cast: Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Rory Cochrane, Janina Gavankar, Lucian-River Chauhan, Aditya Geddada (Rating: **1/2)

Designed as a road movie, ‘Encounter’ streaming on Amazon is a simple but meticulously crafted psychodrama with elements of sci-fi and thrills thrown in fair measure.

The film begins on a mysterious and creepy note with a meteorite hitting planet Earth which causes an eerie chain reaction within the insect kingdom. The insects turn carnivorous, cannibalising the ecosystem. Apart from that, a swamp of microbe-carrying mosquitoes infects a human.

This sets the narrative rolling, just like during the recent coronavirus pandemic, we see a tough and troubled ex-Marine Malik Khan (Riz Ahmed) disinfecting himself. But here, instead of a sanitiser, he sprays himself with a can of insecticide when a swamp of mosquitos crawls out of the wallpaper of his room. We believe that he is doing this to protect himself from the latest pandemic.

In his endeavour to keep himself and his family safe, after his wife (Janina Gavankar) gets infected, he packs his two sons Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), in his car. They leave for a long drive making the kids believe that they are going on a road trip which is a secret mission.

For the unsuspecting kids, what initially starts as an exciting, quality time to spend with their long-absent father, over some time realise that something is amiss and the adventure they were looking forward to is a nightmare.

Like the kids, the audience too is thrown off balance especially, when the caring parole officer Hattie (Octavia Spencer) calls to speak to Malik. That’s when we learn that Malik was a convicted criminal, and we start wondering where the narrative is leading.

Mounted with an incredibly small cast the film is spell-binding because of Benjamin Kracun’s dynamic cinematography and the appealing performances by Riz Ahmed, Lucian-River Chauhan, and Aditya Geddada. Their on-screen father-son chemistry is palpable.

All the supporting characters, along with Octavia Spencer in a small role, have their moments of on-screen glory.

Overall, the script by director Pearce and his co-writer Joe Barton is shrewdly taut and deceptive. It speaks to the audiences so directly that anyone utilising it almost has to go out of their way to make it not work on at least some primal level.

Moreover, the kids are so endearing that you invest in them immediately, and once your trust in Malik breaks, there is no looking back for the safety of the children. Everything starts seeming dubious in gripping even wickedly, amusing ways.

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