'Encounter' review: Riz Ahmed at center of disjointed melodrama
Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Michael Pearce’s “Encounter” tries to be a cautionary tale about the untreated post-traumatic stress our decorated soldiers face when returning home after years in combat. Except its attempt to reconfigure that theme into an overarching sci-fi storyline and borderline cartoonish kidnapping subplot stalls at the finish line. Riz Ahmed, further proving he’s watchable in dismissive projects, anchors the jumbled “Encounter” and though I enjoy him in this type of leading man performance, Pearce and Joe Barton’s screenplay doesn’t give him much room for growth and wastes the talents of Octavia Spencer who never feels essential to the film, rather a functional distraction.
Ahmed plays Malik Khan, a jittery soldier on a mission to save his children, Jay and Bobby (Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada) from an impending parasitic invasion. Armed with a pistol and cans of repellent, Malik straps his young children in for a cross-country hike to a sanctuary that can supposedly withstand the infectious bug attack. But what appears as a selfless act of love quickly spirals into something worrisome when it becomes evident, about the moment Malik guns down a police officer, there’s something fishy going on. Putting the viewer in the position of deciphering what’s real and what’s imaginary.
The second half of “Encounter” splits between a massive manhunt, with the help of Malik’s understanding and concerned parole officer (Spencer), and a series of ridiculous scenarios around a messy robbery and a Mexican standoff with machine gun wielding rednecks. Ahmed carries the load (and dials it up from calm to rage almost instantaneously) turning in a believable performance amid the screenplays discombobulation. “Encounter” tries keeping the audience on its toes by shifting gears from Malik’s mindset to Jay’s perspective (as he witnesses the evolving often perilous dynamics of his fathers actions) but it's underwritten arrival late in the game leaves plenty to be desired.
“Encounter” isn’t completely misguided and the subtext that our country doesn’t care about veterans' mental health, though far from revelatory, still hits an emotional chord. If only it wasn’t underscored by sheer ridiculousness (the aforementioned Mexican standoff was shot like a Michael Bay movie) and Ahmed and Spencer’s lack of screen time together. But even their combined Oscar calibrated star power could have salvaged this emotionally derivative melodrama.
ENCOUNTER is now streaming on Prime Video