Malik (Riz Ahmed) is a troubled, paranoid man–a Marine vet that has completed 10 tours followed up by a couple years in prison. Needless to say, he is suffering from a lot of PTSD. He lives out of his truck or in cheap hotels, and is estranged from his two young sons who are now being raised by their mother and her new boyfriend.
But Malik knows something that hasn’t been picked up by the mainstream: there is a microbial alien invasion, coming from a species so small that insects serve as the hosts. A bite or a burrow into unsuspecting human flesh is like an invisible invasion into the host’s body, and by then it is too late. The current violence and disarray of society is only the beginning of the chaos.
In the middle of the night, Malik sneaks into his old house and grabs his two young sons. Signs of the alien infection are everywhere, and as they quickly leave the house, you see the menacing sight of a knocked over kitchen chair. They race off into the night. The kids Jay and Bobby (Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada) are wide-eyed and excited about the middle-of-night adventure, but it doesn’t take long for Jay, the older one, to notice that things are not quite right.
Encounter first presents itself as a sci-fi thriller, with Malik and his kids on the run, headed to a safe location in the desert away from alien-infected regular folks who may not even know that they are doomed. But as doubts linger, Encounter switches gears to a thriller of another sort. As Malik is scared for the safety of his family, more information is revealed that shows that the aliens may not be the real danger.
Unsurprisingly, Riz Ahmed gives it his all in this film. He is wiry, skittish, and coiled. There’s a whole lot of PTSD going on, and even when he acts on his best intentions, it may not be in the safest interest for his kids. Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada are also very good as the kids, especially Chauhan as the 10-year-old Jay, having to grow up way beyond his years to deal with the situation.
The story itself is where things get into trouble. As the narrative switches gears where the family isn’t just running, but they are being chased, it gets a little bit lazy with the explanations of Malik’s motives, turning from an interesting story of a very real paranoia, to something that, well, society likes to splash across headlines before sweeping under the rug. It’s a bit disappointing when the movie turns against Malik, switching sides, and looking at him as the other. By doing this, it doesn’t answer any questions for him or the audience; instead it just whitewashes his whole experience with a tidy explanation.