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Arrival [2016] : Alice in No-Man’s Land

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Someone rightly said,”Beauty lies in simplicity.”
But I wonder,”So does horror.”

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Denis Villeneuve has an ability to create a gradual foreplay of horror from the simple scenes. Be it a lawyer reading the will to the kids of Nawal Marwan in his most accomplished film Incendies (2010); or SWAT raid on Cartel house in Sicario (2015); or A man attending an erotic show that culminates strangely in Enemy (2013). Likewise, we see linguistic professor Dr. Lousie Banks (Amy Adams) perturbed to see the scanty students in class. The tension creeps in when the class is interrupted by a phone ring of a student. Nothing substantial happens, except that there is a gradual progression of uneasiness in the student’s reaction. Mr. Villeneuve keeps the camera still at a wide angle, capturing the entire class from the front of the board. He doesn’t believe in explicitly showing what’s happening around. It is not until the other student’s cell ring goes off that the class of 6 students is grappled with the horror of something unusual is going on. Mr. Villeneuve impeccably captures the organic shift in tension from the expressions of the students and Louise Banks. While we hear the news in the background, all this time, the camera stays still. That is the beauty of Denis’s immaculate sense of capturing the emotions and his prolific direction.




Neither does the Aliens come in some fancy spacecrafts nor the extraterrestrial arrive ‘only’ in the United States. Neither the military attacks them considering a threat nor we see bombing and shooting. And there is no hero saving the mankind from Aliens.

Arrival breaks all the stereotypical cliche Hollywood has been dishing out in the name of Alien genre to impress Uncle Sam.

Arrival is anti-“Independence day”.

Arrival is exactly the same to sci-fi ‘extra-terrestrial’ genre what ‘Primer’ was to the Time machine genre. It is simple, humane, accessible and it captures the arousing tension with the tangible sense of fear. Cinematographer Bradford Young renders tactile visuals to make even the simplest green field look astonishingly scary. While composer Johann Johannon provides a necessary tensile composition that is unnerving at times.

Arrival, on its surface level, explores the untouched but significant area of initiating the communication understood by both, while the basic & puzzling concept of life and death is examined in a subtle manner. Louise is brought in for the purpose. The narrative strength lies in the ambiguity of (mis) understanding the language. Sometimes it terrifies you, sometimes it astonishes you. Eventually, we surrender ourselves to Louise to interpret for us. While Louise herself relies heavily on intuition and spontaneity. It is the sublime performance of confident Amy Adams that predominately makes the character of Louise so relatable.




The screenplay of Arrival is quite restrained. It sharply draws the line to not step in the full blown science fiction zone. While the drama unfolds in quite a leisure manner, the underlying theme of political tension, military bureaucracy, personal grief and looming danger to mankind keeps the tension up. Villeneuve strikes a master-stroke in its third act that will leave you flabbergasted. It will make you think if a film really needs a twisted end to call it smart, or you can be fooled in a simpler way. Take a bow, Denis Villeneuve.

★★★★½

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