Arrival (2016) Review: Dora For Aliens
‘Arrival’ is what a remake of ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ by Christopher Nolan would be like. Much like that movie, ‘Arrival’ is a film that shows us a more grounded look at the familiar story of alien invasion. The story takes place in Montana, the location of one of twelve alien ships spread out across the globe. It follows Amy Adams as Louise, a linguist who’s tasked with translating the alien language for the US government. No big deal. Just as long as she can do it, before world powers like China and Russia start having more trust issues than Kanye.
‘Arrival’ is the latest in a recent crop of hard sci-fi films, like ‘The Martian’, and ‘Gravity’. It’s a story that focuses more on science than fiction. It approaches the subject of alien invasion the way most films treat war and international conflict. Taking its time to develop the story in a believable fashion. It takes the more detail oriented parts that are typically glossed over, and makes them the driving force of the movie.
Now for many people, that won’t be very appealing. ‘Arrival’ is very much a slow burn, and its meticulous nature can be daunting if you don’t expect it. Partially because ‘Arrival’ does such a great job at crafting anticipation. Director Denis Villeneuve is a master of modern tension and that’s definitely on display here. Although ‘Arrival’ shouldn’t be classified as a thriller, it certainly has the pacing of one. Here, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself. And clowns.
It’s shot very much like a thriller as well, but never goes for the shock of one. The audience is gripped with anticipation for what’s about to happen because of the structure of these shots. Creeping pans and obscurity. Brilliantly, we learn the lesson of the movie through this style. Because we’ve been conditioned to expect something scary, we anticipate with fear. The same happens to the characters as they deal with the aliens. They’ve been conditioned to perceive the strange as a threat, the same way we’ve been conditioned to perceive those shots as leading up to a jump scare. We expect Norman Bates with a kitchen knife, but really, there’s no one outside the shower curtain.
It very much sells the way the characters treat the situation. As much as characters like Louise, and Jeremy Renner’s Ian, a scientist brought to study the aliens as well, may vouch for them, they still wouldn’t fault anyone for being a little trepidatious. Everyone in the movie seems slightly on edge the entire time, which tends to happen when you have the fate of the world on your shoulders. When the movie does escalate its conflict, it feels earned, mostly because of all the legwork before hand.
Personally, I appreciated the way the movie took its time, because it still had so much to say. Watching the way two completely different species interacted from the ground up was mesmerizing. Additionally, I enjoyed what the movie had to say beneath that. The message of abandoning fear and embracing learning is all the more relevant, considering how prevalent and harmful xenophobia is in 2016.
For many people, ‘Arrival’ will be a bore. It’s an unconventional look at this type of film, which usually has more explosions. It’s best to prepare yourself for its slow and steady nature. Give it your patience though, and you’ll be thoroughly rewarded. It’s sad to say it’s a rare sight when a movie has an immensely satisfying ending to a genuinely intriguing beginning.
Rating: Big Screen Watch