Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir Michael Pearce
scr Joe Barton, Michael Pearce
prd Dimitri Doganis, Derrin Schlesinger, Piers Vellacott
with Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Lucian-River Chauhan, Aditya Geddada, Rory Cochrane, Shane McRae, Janina Gavankar, Misha Collins, Bill Dawes, Brennan Keel Cook, Antonio Jaramillo, Keith Szarabajka
release UK/US 10.Dec.21
21/US Amazon 1h48

ahmed spencer cochrane
london film fest

Is it streaming?

ahmed, chauhan and geddada
An inventive visual approach and strong performances make this somewhat under-plotted thriller far more involving than it should be. Filmmaker Michael Pearce wisely hones in on the complex characters rather than the standard action story points, which have an odd flattening effect on the film's more intriguingly ambiguous elements. But it looks terrific, especially in the clever ways it nods to classic alien invasion adventures.
In a panic, former Marine Malik (Ahmed) has discovered that non-terrestrial neuro-parasites are taking over people. So he sneaks into the home of his ex-wife (Gavankar) and kidnaps his sons, 10-year-old Jay (Chauhan) and 8-year-old Bobby (Geddada), taking them on an adventure from their home in Oregon to a secret base in Nevada. And they have various perilous scrapes as they stick to the rural backroads across the desert landscape. Meanwhile, Malick's parole officer Hattie (Spencer) is trying to diffuse the hardline approach of two FBI agents (Cochrane and McRae) who are hot in pursuit.
After opening with a detailed montage showing how the alien pathogen transmits from a meteor to bugs to humans, the film begins dropping in notes that there might be more to the story than this, such as the fact that Malick has a prison record. These things add new angles to the potential danger this man and his sons are facing. And it makes us root for them. Meanwhile, Pearce fills the screen with scuttling insects, freaky pinworms and nifty lighting tricks that play on the genre, including Close Encounters-style landscapes.

Everything hinges around Ahmed's committed performance as a father increasingly frazzled by each obstacle along the road. Even in panic mode, Malik's concern for his sons is vivid, and Ahmed's chemistry with young Chauhan and Geddada sparks with a range of emotions from both sides, adding layers to their continually shifting interaction. Chauhan is particularly strong as an alert boy too young to face these kinds of things. Others remain around the edges, with Cochrane adding to the suspense and Spencer adeptly undermining it.

In the final act, as it begins to become clear where this is heading, the narrative begins to lose rather a lot of steam. Yet it still powers through a number of fierce set-pieces involving guns, cars and helicopters. This is a knowing nod to other alien invasion movies, even if that connection begins to feel more tenuous as the story develops. Thankfully, the father-son elements are strong enough to make the final scenes powerfully involving.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 8.Oct.21 lff

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