Encounter – 2021

Director Michael Pearce
Screenplay Michael Pearce, Joe Barton
Starring Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Janina Gavankar, Rory Cochrane, Lucian-River Chauhan, Aditya Geddada

Encounter is the type of film that borders on a lot of subjects without fully committing to finding answers, or even better questions about any of them. The story starts off very conspicuously with a comet coming to earth and a mosquito biting a human while injecting a parasite. The story then moves to U.S. Marine Malik Khan (Ahmed) writing a letter to his young sons after being on a secret mission for two years. Does his mission involve the parasite? We may never know.

It turns out the two years were not due to a secret mission. His two sons Jay and Bobby (Chauhan and Geddada) have been living with their mother (the beautiful Gavankar, once more playing an ex-wife after last year’s, The Way Back) who has a new partner. Older son Jay (Chauhan), reading letters from his dad, is suspscious about his mother falling ill, it’s also clear he’s not really cool with her mother’s new boyfriend. He won’t have to worry about them for long.

Malik comes to pick up the boys, quietly, in the middle of the night. First, he checks their eyes for bugs. Jay suspects something, but he is too happy to begin an adventure with his Dad. Even if it involves covering with bug spray.

Very soon we discover why Malik has been away from the boys, and we also discover that his new mission has less to do with the military and more to due with the mental issues that led to his separation from his family. Meanwhile, the authorities start a somewhat incredible pursuit of a man who absconded with his two children.

This pursuit is augmented with Malik’s Parole Officer Hattie Hayes (Spencer). We move from the perspective of Malik, to Jay and then Hattie. Malik, is obsessed with the idea that people are being overcome by parasites. Jay knows there is something more than his dad is telling him, but he also sees suspiscious things himself. Hattie, the voice of reason in this story, sees that the response to this abuction has the potential to become outsized if she can’t make sure things stay even. We are left to wonder, like Jay, what perspective is the most likely.

The challenge with Encounter is in how Mike Pearce and Joe Barton expand upon these themes. We get movement on all three accounts until the third act when they commit quite clearly to one and the story loses its balance. The story benefits from the tension between Malik and Jay, but once the bubble pops, there is no putting air back into it.

If you’re a fan of Ahmed, give this a spin. It’s not unusual to see him play a significantly challenged individual. We’ve never seen him play a father. He does both well until the story runs out of steam and decides it’s going to go the route of Smokey and the Bandit II.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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