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REVIEW: Arrival (2016)

The marketing campaign behind this highly anticipated sci-fi movie from visionary director Denis Villeneuve – the man behind last years stand-out movie, ‘Sicario’ – was undeniably an effective one. The striking vision of the large black silhouettes, and the prompting questions about the purpose of the unidentified hovering objects – “why are they here?” – did a great job of creating an air of mystery, tension and unease. The premise of visitors from planets and places unknown is something we’ve seen countless times before, but ‘Arrival’ delivers it in a way which is fresh, exciting, endlessly innovative and supremely intelligent.

‘Arrival’ may not exactly be the film you are expecting, but this is possibly the highest praise that can be heaped on it. You might have an idea in your mind about how this film will pan out, but I would bin that idea, because you’re probably wrong. Villeneuve brings a masterstroke of creativity to this genre, delivering a film which both thrills, intrigues, mystifies and entertains. It is one of the most striking and clever sci-fi movies I have seen in years, delivering something between the visual panache of Stanley Kubrick, and the expertly-crafted storylines of Steven Spielberg.

The journey this movie takes you on is breath-taking, exploring complex themes of memory, existence, intelligence, communication, and the case for pacifism versus activism, all set within a futuristic, science-fiction context. It is a film which completely justifies repeated watches, to view it through a different angle when you know the things that you know now. The film resonates on an emotional level too, which is completely unexpected, and I definitely did not expect to cry, but the closing moments deliver an absolute gut-punch which is difficult to react to in any other way.

As well as Villeneuve and cinematographer Bradford Young’s visual flair, Jóhann Jóhannsson once again does amazing work with the film’s unusual musical score (he worked with Villeneuve on Sicario and Prisoners previous to this). The sound design and score segue together perfectly, creating a deliberately alien-like soundscape that is undeniably effective, melancholic and grindingly tense in equal measure.

Amy Adams is wonderful in this film, and does a tremendous job of carrying this emotionally-layered and complex character; the journey undertaken by this character is incredible, and it’s thanks to Adams’ portrayal that it is utterly convincing from start to finish. Jeremy Renner is also excellent, and he and Adams share a rapport which is believable, charming and keeps the film feeling wonderfully grounded in reality, despite its futuristic facade.

To give away too many plot details of ‘Arrival’ would be a crime, and it’s one of those films that is good to go into as blind as possible. It’s a film to dwell on, to unpack in great detail, to ponder on, and absolutely one to watch again and again (and again), as it has the air of a film which has something new to offer you every time you see it. ‘Arrival’ is a slick, stylish sci-fi movie, expertly crafted and beautifully displayed. Don’t be surprised if you see this one crop up around awards season, ‘Arrival’ is easily one of the best films of 2016 so far.

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Sarah Buddery
Sarah has been writing for JumpCut since 2016, and as well as writing reviews and being one of the hosts of JumpCast, she uses her spreadsheet prowess and love of festivals to help the rest of the team coordinate their festival accreditations and schedules. She also writes for Cineworld and Zavvi, and can always be found somewhere on the internet evangelising about Jaws...

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