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Films I Neglected To Review: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Encounter" and "Wolf."

As "Encounter" opens, former Marine Malik (Riz Ahmed) turns up to see his two young sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada) for the first time in a couple of years but his arrival is no mere social visit. He is convinced that Earth is being invaded by microscopic creatures that invade the bloodstream and take over the minds of those who are infected. Malik's plan is to take them from home, where they live with Malik’s ex-wife and her new husband, and hit the road to a military base in Nevada where they will be safe. As the trip goes on in an increasingly chaotic manner, older son Jay begins to suspect that the stories that Malik has been telling him and Bobby may not be entirely true. Meanwhile, Malik's parole officer (Octavia Spencer) and an F.B.I. agent (Rory Cochrane) are in pursuit, believing that he is mentally ill and his so-called rescue of his children is actually a kidnapping. The fate of Malik and his kids--and possibly all of humanity--rests on the question of whether he is telling the truth, is suffering from paranoid delusions brought on by PTSD or a combination of the two.

Oddly enough, director/co-writer Michael Pearce answers that question fairly early on in the proceedings and while that does make for an interesting narrative decision for a few minutes, it ultimately doesn’t really pay off because once the cat is out of the bag, he doesn't really have anywhere further to go with the story. Things begin to bog down considerably in the middle section before coming apart entirely in the final reels by throwing in a pair of vile militia types to threaten the kids and allow Malik to be heroic and a final standoff and negotiation with the police that feels trucked in from an episode of a middling cop show. The film also offers up a fairly simplistic take on Malik's mental health situation that allows for tidy dramatic resolutions in ways that bear little resemblance to any form of reality. The one truly worthwhile element of the film is the performance by Ahmed as Malik--even if the screenplay tends to seem kind of confused as to how it wants to present the character, he does an excellent job of capturing his complexities so that viewers can still empathize with him without minimizing the things that he does along the way. If the rest of "Encounter" had been as bold and focused as his performance, it might have made for the gripping psychological drama that it wants to be instead of the muddled misfire that it is.

"Wolf" is a film that is so defiantly odd and unsettling that even if you like it--as I happen to--you might find yourself hesitating to recommend it to people unless you were very sure of their tastes to determine whether or not they might respond well to its peculiar wavelength. The focus is on Jacob (George MacKay), a young man dealing with Species Identity Disorder, a condition in which people believe themselves to be an animal--a wolf, in Jacob's case--and assume the characteristics of said creature. In an attempt to cure his affliction, Jacob's parents send him to a strange high-tech therapy center dedicated to breaking people of their delusions that is run by a man known as The Zookeeper (Paddy Considine). At first, Jacob sincerely wants to follow along with the program and shed himself of his animalistic persona but soon becomes disenchanted with The Zookeeper's decidedly harsh approach to “treatment,” which ranges from cruel humiliation of those in his charge to outright physical brutality. At the same time, he finds himself falling in with his fellow patients, specifically Cecile (Lily-Rose Depp), a longtime resident with whom he is able to truly bond with even though she identifies as a wildcat.

Based on the above description, some people might go into "Wolf" thinking that it was either some kind of outrageous satirical comedy or a horror story with The Zookeeper's facility serving as a metaphor for those horrible places that claim they can convert gay people into becoming straight. In fact, writer-director Nathalie Biancheri approaches the material in a serious and straightforward manner that reminded me of David Cronenberg's "Crash" and how he handled the concept of people being sexually aroused by gruesome car accidents. Of course, when one takes material this ostensibly odd and treats it with a straight face throughout, it is enormously risky because if there is even a single misstep or bad laugh, the spell that Biancheri is trying to maintain will be lost forever. Outside of the ending, which doesn't quite land with the kind of power that it should, she manages to sustain the mood throughout thanks to an intelligent script and the committed performances from MacKay and Depp, who are asked to do things here that might have come across as ridiculous (such as the inevitable scene where the two warily sniff each other out) but make them seem completely authentic. I must reiterate that "Wolf" is a very strange and singular film with a tone that is so quiet and precise that some viewers may find themselves becoming frustrated and/or unsettled by its refusal to tell a conventional story. However, those who don't have a problem with watching something that is defiantly off the beaten cinematic path may find it as fascinating as I did.

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originally posted: 12/04/21 01:34:09
last updated: 12/05/21 11:27:53
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