Being a father can be one of the toughest things a person will ever encounter in their life. For parents in the military, the possibility of PTSD can add an extra layer of challenge to parenting. On top of that, what if there was an extraterrestrial alien invasion?
— James Mackin @ TIFF (@JamesMackin10) September 13, 2021
Encounter is the latest film from Michael Pearce (who previously directed Beast, which played at the festival in 2017), and it stars Riz Ahmed (from Sound of Metal). He plays a Marine who hasn’t seen his two young sons in over 2 years. They’re played by first time actor Aditya Geddada and Lucian-River Chauhan (from Heartland).
Malik (played by Riz Ahmed) has discovered proof of alien parasites invading Earth, and taking over several humans. The government and the media haven’t said anything, so Ahmed decides he has to focus on his family. He sneaks into his kid’s place one night, and takes them for a road trip, without their mom (played by Janina Gavankar of the Morning Show). Malik tells his kids about this alien threat, and what they have to do to survive. But as they continue to head towards an army base where they will be safe, Ahmed’s motivations become fuzzier.
Now I can’t say too much more without spoiling it, but safe to say it’s a very entertaining drama. What anchors the film is the heartfelt relationship between the three leads.
Both the children have slightly complicated relationships with their father. Jay, the elder son played by Chauhan, idolizes his father and frequently wrote letters to him while he was stationed overseas. But during the course of this film, he starts to see his dad as more of a person. And people make mistakes.
As for the younger child, Bobby, played by Geddada, he doesn’t fully remember his father. While at first he’s focused on the promise of treats, fun, and good times, childhood fear starts to set in when he realizes the threat of alien bugs. He spends large chunks of the film scared, and wanting to go back home to his mom and step-father.
Child actors can sometimes struggle with their material, especially if the story is not inherently realistic. But what keeps this film grounded is their interaction with Ahmed. During a Q&A after the film’s premiere at TIFF, Ahmed described acting with them as a masterclass. He says because they’re newer to acting, “there’s an honesty and a realness and a rawness that keeps you on your toes.”
And truly, the film doesn’t work without the powerful performances of these two young actors. As for Ahmed, he also does a stellar job at portraying the fear of trying to protect your children. On the top of the existential threat of bugs, there’s also his looming PTSD from his time overseas. He saw and did horrible things, and they’ve affected him greatly. Some of the film’s strongest scenes are just him staring at himself in the mirror, reckoning with his actions. At one point, he almost has a mental breakdown over his past, and launches into a frighteningly intense panic attack.
At its core, this is a film about an almost forgotten father attempting to reconnect with his two children. Alien bugs or not, if the family drama isn’t able to entice the viewer then this film would fail at all of its goals. This film certainly does not fail.
If you don’t get the chance to see it at the festival, it’s going to come out in both cinemas and Amazon Prime Video in December. You can watch the trailer here!