Aditya Geddada, Riz Ahmed and Lucian-River Chauhan in Encounter
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. Available Dec. 3 in theaters and via VOD.
An Invasion of the Body Snatchers
premise gets an interesting twist in a psychological thriller that falls just short of its full possible emotional force. Riz Ahmed plays Malik Khan, an ex-Marine who takes the two sons from whom he’s been separated for two years—Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada)—from his ex-wife, believing he’s rescuing them from an invasion of insect-borne alien microbes that take over human hosts. Whether or not that invasion is actually happening becomes the foundation of the first half of Encounter, with co-writer/director Michael Pearce creating an unsettling soundscape in which every bug noise becomes a potential threat. There’s also strong material in the uneasy relationship between Malik and his boys, who alternately revere the man who has become an almost mythical figure in their life, and fear the dangers they believe he’s exposing them to. A subplot involving Octavia Spencer as a compassionate advocate for Malik feels like it falls short of the vibe it’s going for, and some of the more overt action beats seem more obligatory than inspired. But as is true of every Invasion of the Body Snatchers
-type story, there’s a solid allegory at work, one that feels most potent when even the people who love Malik most can’t decide whether he’s the hero or the villain in their story. Available Dec. 3 in theaters; Dec. 10 via Amazon Prime.
It only takes a couple of minutes for the allegory in writer/director Nathalie Biancheri’s psychological drama to become evident, and not much longer than that to conclude that it’s just a bit … off. Jacob (George Mackay) is a young man who finds himself taken to a specialized clinic by his parents because he believes that he’s actually a wolf trapped in a human body. There he encounters other patients with their own “species dysphorias,” subjected to harsh treatments by the chief psychologist, Dr. Mann (Paddy Considine). So yes, the “condition” of Jacob and his fellow patients is a stand-in for transgender folks, and Mann’s clinic for “reparative therapies” that have tried to convince such people that they’re broken with no chance for happiness unless they change their fundamental natures. Dr. Mann’s treatments are deeply unsettling in their targeted cruelty, with Considine’s performance capturing the zealot’s certainty that they’re only making you suffer for your own good. The budding relationship between Jacob and another patient (Lily-Rose Depp) plays an awkward role, however, suggesting that Jacob faces a choice between his true nature and a conventionally happy romance. More awkwardly, comparing gender dysphoria to believing you’re an animal feels perilously close to conservative “slippery slope” arguments comparing LGBTQ rights with favoring bestiality. While Mackay’s performance evokes something haunting about being a stranger in your own skin, the whole package here, however well-intentioned, feels slightly ill-conceived. Available Dec. 3 in theaters.