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TIFF 2021 Review: Riz Ahmed Shines in ‘Encounter’

TIFF 2021 Review: Riz Ahmed Shines in ‘Encounter’

When reading the plot for Encounter in the TIFF programming guide, it’s easy to see why so many people would be curious about it. The cast alone did it for me. Anytime I can see a Supernatural alum (Misha Collins), even if he does have the tiniest role in the film, I am immediately on board. 

Now, when I say I enjoyed this film, I mean I enjoyed it immensely. There were times I forgot I was watching a movie. Isn’t that the point of watching a movie in a theater? The story, the acting, the pacing, the editing, the special effects were all fantastic. There were a few minor plot holes but I was okay with rolling with it because they didn’t take away from the story. 

I had the pleasure of watching two science fiction films back to back. It was a night of true nerdiness on my part. I walked away from this film wanting to see it again immediately. Encounter is smart. It made me think. It even swayed my belief a few times as I tried to figure out what was really going on. Encounter is such an engaging film, and I can’t wait for people to see it.

Encounter is about a decorated marine Malik Khan and his two sons. Malik learns that bugs (microorganisms) have landed on Earth and have been using humans as hosts, taking control of them one after another. The government will not alert the public, so Malik sets out on a rescue mission to save his sons. He picks them up from his ex-wife, who may or may not be already infected, in the guise of an epic road trip as he tries to keep them safe. 

The film stars Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) as Malik Khan, Lucian-River Chauhan (Heartland) as the oldest son Jay, Aditya Geddada as the youngest son Bobby, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), and Rory Cochrane (Black Mass). The film is directed by Michael Pearce (Beast) and co-written by Pearce and Joe Barton (The Ritual).

Taking cues from classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Puppet Masters, and The Host, the film is infused with the idea of being corrupted by something you can’t see and turns this into a thrilling production enhanced with fully developed characters. 

The story is simple — the character dynamics, not so much. The characters are complex and flawed, yet likable. The relationships explored are complicated, and yet unbreakable. Director Pearce made all the right choices. The little hints here and there that suggest but don’t give away too much were perfect. For a film like this, it’s all about timing and pace. A good reveal is always worth it when the audience doesn’t know what to think. Pearce was able to give us shock and awe with his visuals. 

Ahmed plays Malik Khan perfectly. He is gritty and prone to extremes. His outbursts were precise and fearful at times, but given the circumstances, perfectly valid. Ahmed also plays the loving, tough, and charismatic father. He also is portrayed as the true friend who carries his military team to safety. It makes sense to root for this guy.

The performances of the two young boys are brilliant. Chauhan did an amazing job as the ten-year-old who looks up to his father and would do anything to make his father happy. I teared up at certain scenes because elements of the father-son dynamic reminded me so much of my little nephew with my brother. It was beautiful. 

Geddada as the youngest son Bobby is such a natural. For being this strong in his first film, it’s clear this kid is going places. He’s adorable, funny, and acts like a stubborn little kid (like his father). The dynamic between him and his brother and his father is flawless. He’s that little kid that always wants the other parent when he gets in trouble. We all know that kid.

Like Octavia Spencer’s character, Hattie, we all deem ourselves a good judge of character at some point in our lives. So why is it possible for her to make viewers doubt themselves? Spencer is charismatic and level-headed in her role. It’s unnerving for a character to make us question everything we have seen, to be able to get inside our heads without even realizing it — much like the alien bugs in the film. 

There is also commentary on judging someone by how they look or act. Sound familiar, world? There is a scene where Malik gets pulled over by a cop. Is it because of prejudice and because he looks a certain way, or is it because the cop has alien bugs in his brain? Everyone you encounter in the film could be host to aliens, and the audience alongside the characters are trying to figure it out. It’s fantastic cinematic thrills.

Amazon Prime Video will release Encounter on December 10, 2021. Until then, I’m going to pick up some bug spray, just in case.

For more of our reviews from TIFF check out the following:

The Guilty

Mothering Sunday

Hold Your Fire


To Kill The Beast

A Banquet

Kicking Blood


Night Raiders

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