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TIFF 2021: Encounter Review

Michael Pearce’s sci-fi-tinged thriller Encounter is one of TIFF 2021’s most emotionally wrenching films.

Encounter stars Riz Ahmed as Malik Khan, a former marine and stressed-out dad who stumbles into some earth-shattering news. Alien parasites have invaded the earth, and they’re secretly taking control of the human population. Under cover of night, Malik rescues his two sons from his ex-wife and heads to safety in a secret military installation in Nevada.

Despite what the promotional material says, Encounter is not Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Screenwriters Joe Barton and Michael Pearce still deliver a harrowing story, but it’s a bottled-up family drama, not sci-fi. The spectacle on display here isn’t alien invaders or fancy computer effects; it’s Ahmed’s emotional fireworks.

Ahmed now has one more stunning performance to add to his ever-growing list. He makes you feel every bit of Malik’s torment as his world crumbles around him. What stands out about the role is Ahmed’s ability to make you empathize with a man who makes a series of reprehensible choices. You feel for Malik as he’s crushed by the weight of his desperation, knowing he’s driven to protect his sons.

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Ahmed has terrific chemistry with Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada, the boys playing Malik’s young sons, Jay and Bobby. These two child actors manage to hold their own against Ahmed and even steal a few scenes from the Oscar nominee.

A cheap plot-swerve and heavy-handed climax can’t derail Encounter thanks to another powerhouse Riz Ahmed performance.

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