I'm really not sure how much to say about THE ENCOUNTER—because if I tell you why I liked parts of it, I’ll probably spoil most of the effect for you. In short, THE ENCOUNTER is David A. R. White's surprising, often humorous, and decidedly Christian-niche-market micro-budget take on the classic travelers-meet-mysterious-stranger story.
If that's all you need to know from me, stop right here. And remember that I said "I liked parts of it" and that my primary adjectives were "surprising" and "often humorous."
So first let's deal with the standard elements of that familiar story, one that almost feels like you're hearing it around a campfire. A party of travelers (or several) get thrown together by curious circumstances with a mysterious host in a remote locale; stormy nights are usually involved. We’ve seen this setup in everything from TEN LITTLE INDIANS to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. One by one, the travelers are picked off in some fashion, either by getting killed or having some haunting truth revealed. The host is magical or omniscient—spookily godlike in some fashion—and the travelers must all face a reckoning.
Now, what makes White's take on this tale a particularly Christian-niche spin is his decision to blend the stock story with a semi-related niche staple: the mysterious stranger who is a stand-in for Jesus. You've seen this in myriad films like THE PERFECT GIFT or JOSHUA. It's usually a soft gimmick because the character doesn't really have to be Christ-like—just Jesus-ish.
Did I mention yet that Bruce Marchiano stars as the mysterious host this time out? I think the DVD box pretty much gives that away.
Squeezing Every Dollar's Worth
While it's pretty clear that White was given a wallet-sized budget to work with on this project, he does manage to squeeze about every dollar worth out of it, taking what's essentially a stage-bound one-room drama and keeping the pacing, staging, and camera movement interesting enough for the film's shortish running time. Marchiano has had many years to refine this kind of character, and the passion and sensitivity he brings to his role will likely payoff for most audiences inclined to pop this in the DVD player.
Other actors carry off their roles with varying degrees of success. I enjoyed the chemistry between Jaci Velasquez and Madison Gibney as a Christian woman about to become engaged to a non-Christian and the hitch-hiking runaway she picks up. Steve Borden is annoying a self-rising ex-NFL star—but he's supposed to be.
Grant Some Space
So this is about where I have to shut up, granting some space to the humor and cleverness with which White stages his cautionary tale.
Again, if you're at all likely to pick up this film in the first place, you'll probably enjoy it. If you wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole… well, why are you still reading?
THE ENCOUNTER is unrated, but aside from a little mild spookiness it’s pretty G.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional DVD of THE ENCOUNTER.