Anyone watching director Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival would openly admit that this isn’t your ordinary alien invasion movie. Arrival is impressive in being just as harrowing as any other extra-terrestrial movie, but is so incredibly unlike what’s gone before it, which is what makes it exceptional. It’s a deeply thought-out narrative that anyone with a love of sci-fi will admire, packed with distress and suspense.
The film doesn’t wait long before the invasion occurs, opening with linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) questions why her students are so distracted by their cell phones. They quickly turn to a news channel to hear the global announcement: twelve huge black spaceships have landed across the globe and are hovering suspensefully.
Banks is quickly recruited along with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) for her experience in the field of dialectology. Their job is to investigate what the purpose of the invasion is. The team begin to research ways of evaluating the unidentified species’ language patterns in order to find a means of communicating. Time is very much of the essence and it’s decided that the most efficient, although most unsettling, approach is to enter the ship and meet the visitors directly.
It’s ironic really, that for the most part the battle is more between the humans than the invaders themselves. Each country that’s been visited by a UFO is managing their own national security in a different way to the other, so there’s no worldwide collaboration. There’s also a battle within Adams’ character as she deals with flashbacks of past family trauma that slowly unravels.
The score is powerful, with deep and unnerving long notes that resonate right to your chest and compliment the eeriest of scenes with something rich enough to send the hairs on your arms vertical. Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson effectively builds outstanding musical apprehension, right when you’re already visually overwhelmed as it is. The soundtrack goes hand-in-hand with subtler cues, such as the occasional focus on Dr Banks’ breathing patterns whilst in her space suit. Villeneuve uses the sudden, intense focus on her breathing to force her sense of claustrophobia and fear onto the audience, allowing them to share in her tension.
Arrival will be remembered for successfully concocting science fiction that’s strangely romantic, deeply profound, and unbeatably imaginative.
Arrival screened at the BFI London Film Festival 2016.
Words by Lisa Coleman