Every once in a while a movie comes along and takes you by complete surprise. ARRIVAL is that movie. Promotion for this either completely blew past me or was so subtle, I really had no idea what I was in for besides a broody alien invasion flick.
We’ve all seen the alien invasion flick a million times to varying degrees of success. What I wasn’t anticipating was the low murmurs that started after the movie premiered calling it a Lovecraftian mind fuck.
I started seeing images from the film like the one I used for the title of this review. Star headed tentacle monsters? You have my attention, sir.
One of the things that totally escaped me even after I went to the theater to check this little sucker out was that it was directed by Denis Villeneuve, the mastermind behind the brilliant 2013 film PRISONERS. If you haven’t checked that one out, it will fuck you up. This dude can tell a fucking story and he sure as fuck does that with ARRIVAL.
This little mainstream Sci Fi flick starring Amy Adams and Forest Whitaker turns out to be one of the most authentically Lovecraftian films ever made. How fucking crazy is that?
ARRIVAL was adapted from a short story called STORY OF YOUR LIFE written by a cat named Ted Chiang. Now I don’t have to look any further into it than that to know that Mr. Chiang is a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan. What I didn’t know was that Mr. Villeneuve was a Lovecraft fan, too.
I don’t have any exact quotes from him specifying that. But the care that was taken in the production design, the brooding mood of the film and the simple fact that he chose ARRIVAL as a directing project leads me to believe that he’s a fan or at least has great respect for the works of Lovecraft.
Essentially what we have here is a flick about these giant monolithic ships that appear above the major cities of Earth. They defy gravity and all known physics. They have doorways that open and allow humans entrance.
Inside there are beings that resemble giant hands wearing octopuses. Mankind cannot communicate with them. Not yet at least. A young linguistics professor named Louise is asked to assist the military in interpreting the aliens’ apparent language after the first linguist assigned to the task is driven mad by his work.
That’s our first sign that we’re in Lovecraft country. Madness is a key component in our attempts to understand the true cosmic horrors of the universe. When Louise arrives, she and her companions are sent inside the ship where we get our first taste of the cyclopean vastness that defies all logic and nature. The ship also discards Euclidean geometry in the same way Cthulhu’s great sunken city of R’lyeh defies geometry.
The next key to Lovecraftian stories is dreams. Louise begins to have a series of bizarre dreams as she tries to interpret the complex language of the alien species. All over the world, the other top linguists are trying to do the same with their ships. A rumor is started that the language is a cipher for a weapon and all hell breaks loose.
What happens next is a frantic race for Louise to figure out the alien language and effectively communicate with them before the military forces around the world destroy the alien crafts or each other.
ARRIVAL is a tour de force in tense, dramatic dread and terror and as I said before, one of the most authentically Lovecraftian flicks ever made. A treat for any fan of the Cthulhu mythos, alien invasion flicks or just damn good storytelling. 5 out of 5 dead but dreaming Strangeheads.