Arrival (2016)

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is a highly original, thrilling and mind-boggling take on close encounters.

First Contact

by Alexa Dalby


Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals) is linguistics expert Dr Louise Banks, the academic who makes the linguistics breakthrough in Denis Villeneuve’s alien-contact drama. Twelve spaceships, looking like parts of the high-rise, vertical London skyline, hover above twelve disparate countries around the planet and, as panic strikes, the US government conscripts her as the one person who can help them discover the aliens’ purpose in coming to Earth. Along with Adams, scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner, Captain America: Civil War) is recruited under the command of Forest Whitaker’s (Roots) Colonel Weber.

Not just do the alien spaceships look unlike anything we have seen on screen – perhaps the nearest is 2001‘s black monolith – and the means of entry are also unique in a gravity-defying way, the aliens themselves look different. So frightening that strong men have to be stretchered away, they resemble giant octopuses with seven tentacles that look like giant BFG-like fingers, with the fantastic innovation that these can divide into starfish-like ends. Failing to decipher their spoken language, which sounds like a didgeridoo played backwards with no identifiable words, Adams is finally able to communicate with them using written symbols and thus devise a kind of dictionary. The way in which the aliens write their language is hugely original, as is its effect – as she learns to read their language, she finds that it can alter the types of thoughts she is able to think, in ways that it would be a spoiler to reveal.

It’s a big concept, grippingly executed. As usual in alien incursion movies, drama comes as various nations use their own experts to try and make contact with the aliens on their soil and have to be restrained from attacking them. Only Adams holds the key to whether they have come to help or destroy mankind. Though the UK’s role in this international action is nonexistent, it’s hard to see anything no matter how apparently unrelated outside the prism of Brexit just now, and so it’s likely that the aliens’ purpose would have made them Remain voters.

Director Villeneuve’s previous movies Sicario and Incindies were critically acclaimed and he is currently filming Blade Runner 2049. Adams’ performance is a revelation.

Arrival premiered as the Royal Bank of Canada Gala at the 60th BFI London Film Festival and is released on 10 November 2016 in the UK.

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