Riz Ahmed has become one of the most versatile and interesting actors working. Whether it was his Oscar-nominated performance in “Sound of Metal,” which made a real case for the win, to his over-the-top performance in “Venom,” or his big break in “Nightcrawler” where he went toe-to-toe with Jake Gyllenhaal as the sidekick who eventually wanted out. Unfortunately, Ahmed is not able to fully save “Encounter,” which is another high-concept sci-fi that has something interesting to say about political extremism but falls flat in the final product.
As Tony Montana said, “The eyes, chico. They never lie.” Riz Ahmed, in perhaps his first father role, displays a level of desperation and will to be close to his boys. Unfortunately, Malik (Ahmed) is also paranoid about the virus that is spreading; constantly spraying repellent spray on himself and his two boys. Ahmed is such a good actor that he makes any movie watchable — just see “Venom — and he absolutely steers the ship in “Encounter.” Malik’s boys, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada) make an adorable pair. Like any siblings, they bicker and compete for their father’s affection and attention. The most relatable characteristic of Jay is how he is reaching the age where you become a man. He’s still around 13, but his father wants him to become the “man of the house” when he is not present. Jay’s struggle between the transition from an innocent boy to a grown man is one of the most compelling conflicts in the film.
There is little-to-no action in “Encounter,” but there is a sequence that sees Riz Ahmed go completely Super Saiyan mode on everyone in his way. The camerawork and choreography are surprisingly engaging in a sequence that just watches Ahmed run through his opposition like John Wick, and credit to director Michael Pearce for this scene. Another standout scene was the final 15 minutes where there is a standoff of sorts. There could have been another scene that featured action or big sci-fi explosions, yet it is a complete standoff that allowed for tender moments between Malik and his boys.
Despite Riz Ahmed’s best efforts, “Encounter” runs its course relatively early in the film. The Pokémon-like science behind the parasites is unique, and the commentary on political extremism is well-done, but there is a conflict between focusing on Malik’s past and how it’s affecting him and the chase of Malik for basically kidnapping his kids. Octavia Spencer’s character doesn’t even really come into play until the last half hour when the film wants to become a crime-thriller that chases Malik down. That’s a damn shame, as Spencer is a really great actress when utilized correctly. “Encounter” has a high concept that lacks in doing anything truly memorable with it; which is unfortunate given the talent the cast is filled with.
“Encounter” will be released in limited theaters on December 3 before its Prime Video release on December 10.