Review: Arrival

Aliens exist, they’re here, they’ve landed and their intentions are unclear.

There have been countless attempts at alien movies over the years – good, bad and ugly. Upon first impression it was unclear as to which way director Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival was going to go – a modern Close Encounters of the Third Kind or aKnowing/Signs based car crash.

But unlike other Sci Fi and apocalyptic movies, this one doesn’t rely on fast action sequences or Hollywood special effects. What you immediately get from Arrival is a sense of calm from the outset. With soft visuals and intimate sound, this film is very much about language, not only in its subject matter but in its delivery – and that’s what plays to its strengths.

The film centres on Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a talented academic who begins her journey into the film with a mini montage of touching moments between her and her daughter which create an almost dream like state. Returning to the present day, Louise is teaching at a university when the news breaks that 12 oval shaped alien spaceships have landed on earth covering everywhere from Devon to the Black Sea. With no idea as to where the alien’s intentions lie, the military seek to develop new intelligence by recruiting Louise and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to use their strengths of language and science to communicate with the new arrivals.

The aliens named the ‘Heptapods’ are not anything like the commercial UFO dwelling creatures you’d normally expect on screen, but are large spider-like creatures which communicate through their own complex language of symbols in a non-linear fashion. Following Louise’s journey to communicate with them, the film is like one big close up of her thought processes and emotions.

With touching moments and a gripping script, you begin to realize that the plot is more about Louise and her gifts rather than the alien invasion itself.  It’s the kind of film that takes a while to get your head around, with the non-linear nature of the Heptapod’s language mirroring the narrative of the film, bringing us full circle to where we began – are these memories flashbacks, or are they visions of the future?

Amy Adam shines in this charming and complex female lead, bringing a great deal of sensitivity and realness to the role. The tender moments and evocative script make it a gripping watch and it’s refreshing to see a movie of this kind that’s not dependent on a patchwork of action sequences; but it’s not a film for everyone.

If you want a Sci Fi movie full of special effects, maybe give this one a miss. If it took you a week to figure out Donnie Darko – run! If you fancy a more sensitive unstructured approach to alien invasion, then Arrival may just win you over.

Reviewed at the Venice Film Festival with Loose-Lips.com