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Amazon Studios

MOVIE REVIEW
Encounter (2021)

Not sure what it is with these recent British bait-and-switchers, but “Encounter” unfolds very much like “Here Before”: It begins in one genre and then swerves into something else entirely. “Encounter” commences as science fiction, with Riz Ahmed as a former marine Malik Kahn, who, after years of absence, hurriedly snatches his two kids, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), from his estranged ex, Piya (Janina Gavankar). They embark on a secret mission to take cover at a military base amid an alien invasion. Through elaborate special effects, the film depicts people altering their behaviors after insect bites, and their eyes give them away. If you are a sci-fi fan, just know looks here are deceiving. If that doesn’t deter you, beware of spoilers ahead.

Piya has supposedly succumbed to the insect bites, and so has the law officer who pulls Malik over. The gruesome struggle with the cop validates the specter of alien invasion. A few tangential scenes later, we’re introduced to Hattie (Octavia Spencer), Malik’s parole officer. Here, we learn that this movie ain’t “A Quiet Place,” and that everything we’ve witnessed so far has been in the head of an unreliable narrator. The rest is a pretty effective on-the-lam movie, in which Malik and the boys not only need to evade the F.B.I. but also the rednecks from whom he steals a car. Still, if you’ve bought a ticket thinking this is going to be some apocalyptic extravaganza, this part may seem to you like a copout from a production that’s exhausted its C.G.I. budget.

Mr. Ahmed again evokes the expected degree of compassion for a disabled character. But unlike “Sound of Metal,” “Encounter” is a movie that stigmatizes. It perpetuates a harmful stereotype on mental illness all for a cheap-shot plot twist. In an age when the word “crazy” can be easily weaponized against someone, it’s simply irresponsible to depict schizophrenia without care and nuance. It has also led to mental illness being abused in courtrooms to help white defendants evade liability – the false logic being that well-bred white people only commit violent crimes when compelled by mental disorders. Overall, this narrative is toxic and should be retired as the film industry inches toward diversity, equity and inclusion.

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