Denis Villeneuve has slowly been cementing himself as one of the great upcoming directors of this generation. Breaking onto the scene in the past few years with intense yet imperceptibly paced thrillers like Prisoners, to apathetic psychological dramas like Enemy, the French-Canadian director has already proven his skill with a relatively small filmography. His slow-paced yet distinct atmospheric style has his work standing out amongst other films this decade. Arrival continues with his trademark style and brings a clever and fascinating film to his already stellar library.
When UFOs land across the planet with no immediate hostility, renowned translator Dr. Banks, played expertly by Amy Adams, is hired by the government to attempt to communicate with the mysterious beings to learn of their intentions with our planet. The progression of the story is very slight from scene to scene with early tries at understanding the aliens and corresponding with them failing. However, it’s simply being realistic as if this situation were to actually occur, there’d be no quick success if any at all. Character building is mixed in well with Dr. Banks’ past with her daughter explored and Hollywood’s now go to supporting actor Jeremy Renner given some depth and likability too. It’s the epitome of a slow burner but for the narrative it’s telling it works excellently.
The film relies on the intrigue of its concept’s execution and Villeneuve’s trademark atmospheric techniques to carry the film and thankfully they do. The gradual nature of the directing works to its gain surprisingly well. Everything from the characters, to the aliens, to the camera and scene transitions are snail-like in pace. You’re given time to observe and digest every frame, every scene and it absorbs you into this intriguing world wonderfully.
Intrigue is the key word for Arrival. Every aspect of the plot and the otherworldly workings keep interest levels high and each development adds enough to keep your attention. The design of the UFOs and the aliens themselves are striking, they look completely original compared to the generic oval-headed humanoids we’re used to. From their first appearance, everything from their movements to their communication methods are captivating to watch. Towards the film’s latter half, things may get a tad confusing for some but once it all clicks it brings new dimensions that warrant a second viewing, which the dawdling pace would normally make unappealing.
Villeneuve has not been one to cater to mainstream audiences, the bizarre nature of Enemy will tell you that much, Arrival is a film many could easily claim as boring. If the concept of a science-fiction that’s focused more heavily on the science half, with research on how these strange creatures operate and what they’re discovery could mean isn’t interesting to you out the gate, then Arrival isn’t for you. But if that does sound up your ally, then you can rest assured that Arrival is one of the year’s better Sci-fi tales due to its engagingly unique style and powerful atmosphere.