Review: ‘Encounter’ Starring Riz Ahmed

Riz Ahmed stars in ‘Encounter’ (Photo © 2021 Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

If only Encounter’s screenplay was worthy of the passionate performance delivered by Riz Ahmed, the R-rated drama might have been something special. Instead, too many details pivotal to maintaining a sense of suspense are revealed early on, lessening the impact of their confirmation later in the film.

Oscar nominee Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) stars as Malik Khan, a decorated Marine who did 10 tours of duty and has obviously been left deeply scarred by the experience. Malik’s ex-wife has custody of his two young sons – Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada) – and although Malik has kept in close touch via letters, he hasn’t seen his kids in two years.

Malik has explained his absence by claiming he’s been kept busy on a secret mission, and so his kids are shocked to find him suddenly showing up in the middle of the night in their bedroom. He allows them only a few minutes to get ready and then announces they’re hitting the road. Their destination: a remote location in Nevada.

Malik doesn’t lay out his plans in detail and instead it’s Jay – a clever, empathetic kid – who puts the pieces together. The young boys are surprised to learn their dad’s convinced an alien invasion is underway since it’s not on the news and no one seems to be talking about it. But they love their dad and are willing to accept that Earth’s under attack by parasitic aliens that infect people via bug bites.

Malik suggests they liberally apply bug spray to protect themselves from mosquitos and other potential alien spreaders. He also insists he’s able to spot the infected by looking in their eyes and reveals their mom and her boyfriend were infected. The kids accept this development and it strengthens the “us against the world” bond between the boys and their dad.

Malik becomes increasingly manic as the trio drive hours on end to get to the base where others who understand the threat are gathered. His talk of an invasion that’s somehow managed to escape the attention of the media becomes too much for Jay to continue to accept and support, and as the older brother he understands he’s been placed in a position to not only protect his little brother but also keep his father from being harmed. That’s a nearly untenable task as Malik violently attacks (but doesn’t kill) anyone he encounters who stands in the way of getting his boys to what he believes is a safe location.

Malik cares deeply for his boys, yet his anger is also occasionally directed at Jay and Bobby. His frustration rises and his desperation mounts, and Malik’s already tenuous grip on reality puts his kids – who he promised to protect – in the line of fire.

As Malik’s frantic road trip gets underway, we’re introduced to his hard-working parole officer, Hattie, played by the unfortunately under-utilized Oscar winner Octavia Spencer. Hattie didn’t believe kidnapping his sons was something Malik had in him, and she begins to question whether she’s grossly misjudged not only Malik but other parolees whose cases she handles. If she didn’t anticipate Malik making this felonious move, how can she trust herself to assess other parolees’ abilities to conduct themselves in society?

That question would have been an excellent leaping-off point for Hattie to exam her actions, but it’s only briefly touched on and then tossed away.

Ultimately, without the tantalizing element of being allowed to question exactly what’s going on in the mind of Ahmed’s character, Encounter has a very narrow story to tell. Unfortunately, that leads to scenes that feel repetitive and unnecessary.

Ahmed and his young co-stars Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada are exceptional, with Ahmed displaying a mesmerizing mix of tenderness and terror. However, the outcome is apparent within the film’s first 30 minutes thus muting the engagement we have with the trio as they head toward a fate telegraphed from the beginning.


MPAA Rating: R

Release Date: Limited release on December 3, 2021 followed by a streaming release on Prime Video on Dec. 10th

Running Time: 108 minutes

Directed By: Michael Pearce