As a screenwriter when your back catalogue of films includes the script for a remake of, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ , a prequel to ‘The Thing’ that you unimaginatively title ‘The Thing’ and then write the script for ‘Final Destination 5’ a film that brings a franchise to an end then you must be giving your agent cold sweats when you deliver a script that you know will be difficult to sell because of your poor box office pedigree. Thankfully for screenwriter Eric Heisserer he seems to have turned the corner with one of this summer’s horror hits, ‘Lights Out’ which has made a huge $144m on a $5m budget. Having moved away from horror for the first time his follow up is the sci-fi film, ‘Arrival’ directed by Denis Villeneuve who made one of our favourite films from last year, ‘Sicario’.
Taking its cue from Pixar’s, ‘UP!’ the first five minutes is unbearably heartbreaking for any parent as Dr Louis Banks (Amy Adams) remembers her daughter from baby to young teenager who tragically dies from an unspecified disease. It’s heartrending stuff and to forget about it she throws herself into her work as a highly respected and brilliant professor of languages. She is a cunning linguist and it’s when one of her students alerts her in class to what appears to be an alien invasion as 12 enormous spaceships hover over cities throughout the world. Anyone expecting Independence Day carnage at this point will be disappointed. No one seems to know why they’re here and Adams is recruited by army colonel Forrest Whitaker to try and communicate with them. It’s her attempt to communicate with the aliens that makes up the mainstay of the plot as the world tries to find out their intentions and as this goes on other countries grow ever more jittery until it seems that someone will break ranks and launch an attack on the spaceships starting…… well, who knows what? Annihilation presumably and so the race is on to find out why they are here before the seemingly inevitable begins.
It’s Adams who is our eyes initially especially in an extraordinary sequence where they go into the spaceship to contact the aliens who look like a cross between an octopus and that lone floor scrabbling hand in The Addams Family. It’s a deliriously engrossing sequence which ends all too soon. Aided by Jeremy Renner as a physicist the pair start work on a common language with the visitors although like many of these types of films you can’t help but feel that if these aliens are so super intelligent why do we always have to work out how to talk to them rather than the other way round.
In many ways this is like a cross between Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and ‘Contact’ which starred Jodie Foster but what differentiates this is the use of flashbacks and flash forwards which at first seem to be pointless but ultimately turn out to be crucial to the story.
It bodes well that ‘Arrival’ is an early indicator of how confident expectant audiences can be with the about to start shooting Blade Runner 2 because like ‘Sicario’ Villeneuve has made an utterly compelling and wholly beguiling film that you can’t take your eyes off and is possibly one of the best films you’ll see this year.
Here’s the trailer: