starring Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Janina Gavankar, Rory Cochrane
screenplay by Joe Barton and Michael Pearce
directed by Michael Pearce
by Walter Chaw It's possible that Michael Pearce's Encounter is its own worst enemy. The opening hour or so is remarkable stuff: tetchy, kinetic, terrifying--the honourable sequel in spirit to Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where insects become the vectors of an alien virus that appears to change our DNA and, with it, our behaviour. Such a smart idea for an era in which more and more people are coming around to the idea that fully half of us at any one time are mindless animals powered by the pleasure principle and the selfish cell and little else. They would watch us die without a flicker of recognizable empathy. Nothing is real to them unless it happens directly to them--there is no evidence save that of the flesh, of their flesh, that could compel them to care about the suffering of another human being. Not even care--nothing could compel them to acknowledge that suffering was possible. They are empty of imagination, devoid of personality; they are essentially alien things neither malign nor beneficent. And there is no better explanation for their existence among us than what Encounter at first appears to be getting at: the government is aware that an unknowable influence has taken over half the population, and it's only a matter of time before the rest of us succumb. Delicious. Pearce's treatment of it is delicious, too, as uncomfortable and alive as William Friedkin's Bug, paired beat-for-frantic-beat with an extraordinary performance by Riz Ahmed, who might be incapable of providing any other.