Encounter begins with two striking sets of imagery. The first is of a comet-like object shooting across the night sky, the second is close-up footage of insects squirming like a mosquito given extra focus. The combination of these two images suggests some sort of alien form that may be infecting people. At least, this is what Malik (Riz Ahmed) believes.
Director Michael Pearce is a confident director whose breakout film Beast was a striking horror hybrid. Encounter similarly aims for a hybrid, this time a mesh of sci-fi thriller and family drama dealing with PTSD. This time it is less effective blend of two genres.
At the center of the film is Riz Ahmed. He is a riveting actor and keeps the film engaging even when its plot shifts ungracefully. As Malik, Ahmed unravels on screen, playing a man who believes a parasitic threat is going to harm his family. One night, he takes his children, Jay (Lucien-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), from his ex-wife Piya (Janina Gavankar). As they hit the road, a backstory is unspooled slowly creating many questions as it does. Some of these do get answered but there is a frustrating sense of where things are going for much of its runtime.
While Malik and his boys are on their road trip, his sons begin to doubt their father's beliefs. Danger enters their trip early and creates a wedge between older Jay and his father. Chauhan is very good as Jay, creating a believable shift in his loyalty to his dad. The performances carry the film through the shifts in tone and ultimately lead to an emotional ending. I would lie if I didn't say the theater got a little dusty.
From the strong direction to the strong performances, Encounter is often thrilling. While some scene-to-scene shifts don't work, the individual scenes do. Ahmed shines, bringing heart and nervous passion to the role of Malik. Encounter may hit a few bumps in the middle of its road trip, it ends well thanks to the emotional powerhouse that is Riz Ahmed.