“Encounters” is a found footage horror/sci-fi film out of Denmark that is written and directed by Anders Bukh. The film follows a film crew who travel to the forests of northern Sweden to shoot a horror movie, but their production takes a decidedly bad turn when they encounter an off worldly presence.
Like so many found footage films before it, Encounters opens with an onscreen message describing the genesis of the footage we’re about to see:
“On November 26, 2011, a film crew was reported missing in northern Sweden. After 10 days, the Swedish police called off the search. A year later, the Swedish Intelligence Service was hacked by ‘Anonymous’. Soon after, an unknown source published the data from the crew’s laptop online. This is the crew’s footage.”
Next we’re introduced to a film crew riding in a passenger van heading to the forests of northern Sweden to shoot a low budget horror film. In the van are cameraman Fjord (Kristian Fjord), director Anders (Jacob Wagner Guldager), and two actors Janne (Signe Mathilde Sørensen) and Alex (Casper Sloth). The cinematographer for these scenes and most of the film is cameraman Fjord, who is tasked with filming all the “behind the scenes” footage and principal cinematography for their new horror film, aptly named “Encounters.”
In a world of alien-based found footage films that share variations of the same ubiquitous plot, the underlying story of Encounters stands by itself as unique, mysterious, and creepy.
As the film crew approaches the wilderness, their GPS starts to fail for lack of a signal. Nonetheless, the van arrives at its destination and drops off the film crew, who continue into the forest on foot. With no GPS or Internet service, Anders is unable to find the location he originally scouted to film. Having walked in circles for almost a full day, a frustrated Anders throws in the towel and elects to film at their present location.
Since the shoot is running behind schedule, Anders decides to start filming immediately. In a rather funny scene, we see that the wardrobe consists of two prepackaged Lord of the Rings Halloween costumes used to create the medieval look of the low budget horror film. During filming of the first scene, the video camera catches mysterious lights off in the distance.
Alex eagerly takes a video camera and heads out alone to film the lights, and as he nears the light source his video camera picks up static and audio distortions. Next we hear what sounds like the beginning of a scream and his camera cuts out.
The film crew spread out and search for Alex, only finding his cell phone and one shoe. What happens next will change the film crew’s lives forever as their worst nightmares come to fruition.
In a world of alien-based found footage films that share variations of the same ubiquitous plot, the underlying story of Encounters stands by itself as unique, mysterious, and creepy. Encounters does a good job at taking its time to reveal the true nature of the threat that has befallen the small film crew.
It’s not a spoiler to say that this film involves an alien presence, as there’s an alien craft on display in the film poster and trailer. What is a spoiler is why these aliens are here, how they operate, and what their motives are. These are all questions that are slowly answered throughout the course of the film. Without giving away too much of the plot, Encounters includes missing time; having the film crew’s food supply seemingly spoil overnight; and the film crew meeting doppelgangers of themselves. The reason behind these observations is shrouded in mystery, but rest assured that all these lose ends are tied up towards the end of the film.
As good as the story is, Encounters is not without issues. The film contains a scene where one character falls ill to an unknown aliment and is also thought to be suffering from dehydration. In a move that defies logic, the protagonists inject the character with a saline solution comprised of bottled water and table salt using a hypodermic needle from the first aid kit – this amounts to negligible 60 ml of water (i.e. 4 tablespoons) as a treatment for dehydration. While we learn later in the film that the “saline solution” serves another purpose, there are certainly alternative plot devices that could have been employed to achieve the same result and fit more naturally into the story.
Onto more positive notes, of which there are many. During two scenes early in the film, Fjord overhears private conversations between Anders and Alex suggesting that they are planning a fake scare in the forest to create more tension in the film they are shooting. When Alex actually does go missing, questions are raised as to whether Alex is really missing or simply hiding as part of a plot to produce a better film. This diversionary tactic works on both the characters and the audience as to what’s really going on in the forest.
A great plot element in Encounters is Fjord’s discovery of power sources at different points in the story to recharge the video camera batteries. A lot of footage is captured from many video cameras during the film and offering a power source removes the lingering thought of the ominous “infinite battery” that plagues so many found footage films.
Encounters employs a brilliant marketing strategy in the latest trailer, in which a masked hacker speaking through a voice changer claims responsibility for leaking the found footage that is Encounters. Not only does the trailer raise awareness about the film, but since the hacker is wearing a full face mask, the trailer audio can be (and is) released in English, which caters to English speaking countries. Make note that the film itself is in Danish and the screener used to review the film has English subtitles. This reviewer’s preference when watching foreign films is to use subtitles, enabling the emotions of the original actors to come through via the native audio.
Encounters contains a good number of effective and well placed jump scares throughout the film, which are sure to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
The acting in Encounters is great across the board. Krisian Fjord as cameraman Fjord and Jacob Wagner Gludager as Anders both perform exceptionally well and carry the film. Signe Mathilde Sørensen and Casper Sloth also perform admirably in their respective roles as Janne and Alex.
In one scene the film crew stops at a roadside restaurant to eat and take a much needed break after their long drive. This scene, along with the scenes in the passenger van during their drive north, are time well spent introducing and developing the main characters. The restaurant scene includes some very interesting footage of Fjord explaining how his new steady cam works. Fjord’s steady cam demonstration is filmed from a second video camera held by his colleagues sitting across the table. It’s the acting in scenes like this one throughout the film that keep the characters grounded and give them endearing qualities that an audience can relate to.
Found Footage Purity
Encounters is 100% found footage with the exception of brief background music placed in a particular scene involving Alex and another brief scene in an underground bunker towards the end of the film. The inclusion of background music in isolated instances in an otherwise pure found footage film runs the threat of taking the viewer out of the moment. These two instances of background music beg the question as to why they were placed in the film to start with.
It’s this lack of perfection that gives found footage its authentic feel, and Encounters does a good job at replicating that authenticity.
The filming reasons used in Encounters are effective throughout the film. Fjord is tasked with filming behind the scenes footage covering the making of their horror film and is also charged with principal cinematography, which accounts for most of the footage. In several scenes, handheld video cameras are used as a light source to see in the forest at night and a poorly lit underground bunker. Fjord also brings along additional handheld video cameras and surveillance type video cameras that come into play later in the film, to capture surveillance footage as well as document everything that’s been happening to the film crew.
Encounters does an effective job at creating realistic looking found footage. As the cameraman for the “horror film” the film crew sets out to create, Fjord is an expert cinematographer using professional equipment, so his footage is expected to be shot well and steady. During scenes where the film crew is under threat, the video camera often points towards the ground or moved haphazardly at obscure angles, which is to be expected under those circumstances. It’s this lack of perfection that gives found footage its authentic feel, and Encounters does a good job at replicating that authenticity.
The special effects used in Encounters are top notch. The alien craft, which is also in the trailer, is exceptional as well as smaller alien devices that make themselves present later in the film – the CGI is seamlessly woven in the film.
Encounters contains a good number of effective and well placed jump scares throughout the film, which are sure to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. The film also makes a great use of sound design. The use of wind chimes on one structure midway through the film creates great atmosphere. The baritone sound of the alien craft creates a dark undertone to those scenes in the film.
If there’s one criticism to be had it’s that the pacing suffers in the final 30 minutes of the film, during which the protagonists spend much of their time exploring the long dark corridors of a subterranean bunker. While the bunker is a great set piece with an abundance of atmosphere and a creepy feel, trimming these scenes would serve the film well.
Additionally, there are scenes with nudity midway into the film that are blurred out, which is acceptable if the found footage is “edited” by a third party prior to release. However, there’s an additional scene with nudity towards the end of the film which is not blurred out, which creates some inconsistency.
After you’ve had an opportunity to see the film, we recommend visiting the website of the fictitious hacker group, Pandoras, that leaked the Encounters footage. The site contains interesting “leaked” photographs and documents that will add to the atmosphere of of the story for those that have already seen the film. The site does not contain spoilers, but the material is likely to lack context until after having seen the film: Pandoras Website