TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! A man rescues his children from a global parasitic alien invasion in director Michael Pearce’s Encounter. However, co-writers Pearce and Joe Barton are not telling that kind of story.
Malik Khan (Riz Ahmed) is a decorated Marine who has PTSD after serving on several tours overseas. After his release from prison, Malik heads to his ex-wife Piya’s (Janina Gavankar) house to rescue his kids, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), from the previously mentioned aliens. He does it in the middle of the night, as Piya and her new husband are sleeping.
At first, Malik tells his kids that they are going on a camping trip but soon informs them of the alien invasion that has infected everyone else in the world. Early on, it’s clear that Malik is suffering a mental breakdown, and the narrative quickly turns into a manhunt for Malik and the kidnapped boys. Using his military skills, Malik manages to stay under the radar, steal cars, and evade (and subdue) law enforcement. However, as his actions intensify, Jay and Bobby become concerned over their father and situation.
I’ve seen countless films about fathers in various states of mental health struggling to be with their children and going through extreme measures to fight for custody. Encounter is just another one of those stories. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good movie, but what elevates it from the pack are the performances from Riz Ahmed and Octavia Spencer, as Malik’s caring parole officer, who is actually his only advocate once things kick into high gear.
“A man rescues his children from a global parasitic alien invasion…”
As Malik, Ahmed finds the complexity in his character as he’s being pulled between fighting to be with his sons at all costs and struggling with PTSD. The latter digs Malik down a deeper and deeper hole in the eyes of the law. Yet, you feel his love for his kids and cringe at the horrible choices and selfishness. I will say that Malik is standard Riz Ahmed all the way. Compared to his other (already) classic performances, Ahmed’s is solid here but not groundbreaking.
It helps that Octavia Spencer’s Hattie exists. She is the voice of reason in a testosterone-driven hunt for Malik. As always, Spencer plays tough, compassionate, and rational very well.
Warning: children are in danger throughout Encounter, which may hit a little too close to home for some. Ironically, the children’s life-threatening predicament was the part of the story that stands out the most. As dad goes out on a dangerous mission, the kids just want to be kids. Jay is forced in these moments to become the adult (though still a child), and he fights between his responsibilities to be the bigger brother and his annoyance when Bobby acts like a child.
If you’ve seen as many movies as I have about PTSD, mental health, and child custody, then you’ll know the themes and beats of Encounter. I hate reducing it to this, but there you have it… I did. Still, Ahmed and Spencer offer a genuine reason to check it out once.
Encounter screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…what elevates it from the pack are the performances from Riz Ahmed and Octavia Spencer..."