Still from 2016's "Arrival."

usually homed in the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes of The Simpsons (1989-present) nor the funk-loving cousins of Gonzo in Muppets in Space (1999). More like shadow-dwelling heptapods whose appearance are irrelevant to the story Arrival is telling. Them remaining a question mark is more pressing than the creation of a spectacular beast Terry Gilliam might have thought up on a lazy Sunday.

 

In the film, that enigma is the presence of alien beings. Not the slobbering beasts usually homed in the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes of The Simpsons (1989-present) nor the funk-loving cousins of Gonzo in Muppets in Space (1999). More like shadow-dwelling heptapods whose appearance are irrelevant to the story Arrival is telling. Them remaining a question mark is more pressing than the creation of a spectacular beast Terry Gilliam might have thought up on a lazy Sunday.

 

They appear on a mundane week day afternoon in droves. It isn’t immediately apparent. As the film opens, we follow linguistics professor Louise Brooks (an excellent Amy Adams) into her Massachusetts lecture hall, where she intends to deliver a lesson bound to make gobs of students snooze.

 

Not today. Upon her entering the room is the vast auditorium empty save for a handful of wild-eyed students. She attempts her opening remarks but is interrupted by a couple text message dings. Then a plethora. “Turn on the news,” a student demands.

 

Brooks does so out of curiosity, and, like us, is stunned by the breaking news flashing across CNN’s screen. Twelve spaceships have landed in various parts of the world, from Sierra Leone to Montana, with intentions unclear. Because answers cannot easily be delivered by the media nor the government, the globe’s populace, understandably, freaks out, stock markets crashing and anarchy reigning almost instantaneously.

 

A short time later is Brooks contacted by G.T. Weber (Forest Whitaker), an Army colonel who thinks the linguist has what it takes to discover just why the celestial invaders came to Earth. Weber and his cohorts have uncovered how to gain access to the Montana ship, but they’re hesitant to make contact without someone like Brooks by their side. She agrees to provide a helping hand, and before long has she come face to face with the beings inadvertently causing the world to go into a frenzy.

 

To describe them in detail would forgo what Eric Heisserer’s screenplay puts forth. They very well could be shapeless apparitions and the effect would be the same. What Heisserer is intrigued by is the nature of communication, which is much more provocative than it might seem in black font on a laptop screen.

 

The aliens convey their thoughts both through warbling whale noises — deemed irrelevant by Brooks — and through black mist which shoots from their bodies like a wet sneeze. Only the mist reassembles itself into various, complicated shapes that signify that these beings do, in fact, have a vocabulary more labyrinthine than our own.

 

Eventually it’s learned that the aliens’ calculations are not so much malicious as they are disconcerting, depending on what angle you’re observing from. But Arrival also isn’t your typical invasion thriller: it’s small in scale, first of all, and is more concerned with how its protagonist is affected by the goings-on than it is with deciphering what lies within the egg-shaped ships stationed atop these 12 locations.

 

The film perfectly captures the feelings felt by so many Americans in the midst of our current political climate: this deep, blood-curdling fear that everything could go wrong in the snap of a finger, this understanding that all we can do is make the most of the day until the rules once again (or hopefully) revert back to normal.

 

All is marked by social perceptiveness that makes Arrival feel very of the moment. It’s of the intelligent sci-fi brand exemplified nearly 50 years ago with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969). It additionally carries an overwhelming melancholy perpetuated by the reality that Brooks recently lost her daughter to a rare illness — her bravery does not come without its raw spots. 

 

Its final twist leaves us staggered, but the ideas leading us to that moment leave us even more so. With so much attention put onto the more dispassionate side of things — so much of the film’s length is spent essentially putting together a puzzle — it’s fixed that Arrival sometimes feel as cold as the wind that blows on the faces of the people camped out at the central Montana location.

 

But with concepts this ambitious (and successfully executed), with visuals this momentous, with direction so tense, and with performances so careful, sometimes the presence of warm-blooded ardency need not be crucial. B+

DIRECTED BY

Denis Villenueve

 

STARRING

Amy Adams

Jeremy Renner

Forest Whitaker

Michael Stuhlbarg

Mark O'Brien

Tzi Ma

 

RATED

PG-13

 

RELEASED IN

2016

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 56 Mins.

Arrival July 18, 2017        

A

deadly quiet drones on for the entirety of Arrival (2016). It isn’t the kind of silent buzz that rings throughout a slow-burn horror movie in which we expect all hell to break loose some time during the finale. It is a sort of malevolence that comes when an enigma, one we’re very aware of but cannot easily explain, lingers.

 

In the film, that enigma is the presence of alien beings. Not the slobbering