As 12 large alien pods appear around the globe, American linguist Louise Banks (a career-best performance from Amy Adams) is enlisted by the military to find out why they are here. Before doing so, she must learn to communicate with these extraterrestrial beings using their own language. As she begins to 'talk' with them effectively, leaders around the world disagree over the meaning of one of the pieces of information given to them by the aliens. This leads to military mobilisation against the pods, with only Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) convinced that the aliens are in fact trying to help humanity save itself. Queue some truly staggering revelations and one of the most jaw-dropping finales in recent cinema.
Right from the beginning, it is clear that Arrival is a very different kind of sci-fi film. There are no explosions on offer here, just a quietly moving depiction of a mother losing a child. This sets the tone for much of the film to follow, in that director Villeneuve always ensures that the human side of the narrative is firmly at the centre of the screen. He does this by his constant focus on the astonishing Adams, as the camera rarely leaves her throughout the film. It is this choice of cinematography that allows the audience to connect with the film's central themes; the power of communication, the impact of language and how we can isolate ourselves through misinterpretation. In a year where society has been consistently split down the middle, a film that shows the consequences of miscommunication could scarcely feel more relevant.
That is not to say that the film fails to deliver in terms of spectacle. The visual design of the aliens is extremely unique, and Johann Johannsson's powerful score soundtracks their reveal to perfection. I would go as far as to say that the first contact between the human characters and the aliens may stand out as one of the greatest moments in modern science fiction cinema. The interior design of the pod incites favourable comparisons to the starkly beautiful films of Tarkovsky, and I do not offer such praise lightly.
It is not an overstatement to suggest that Arrival is one of the most intelligent and imaginative movies in recent memory. It has the power to both enthral and move its audience, and its climactic twist is so surprising that my jaw remained firmly on the floor until the credits had stopped rolling. In short, Denis Villeneuve has crafted that rarest of beasts: a blockbuster that makes you think. For my money, it leaves every other film of 2016 standing.
Book your ticket here.