FIRST contact with extraterrestrial life is usually tackled in one of two ways by Hollywood.

There are big budget popcorn films like Independence Day where aliens invade and attack. And then there are heartwarming movies like E.T. where space travellers come in peace.

Arrival is different. The intent of the aliens is unknown in Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s meditative sci-fi thriller. The film sees 12 extraterrestrial spacecraft, nicknamed ‘shells’ by the US military, touch down across the world.

Do they pose a threat or an opportunity for a greater understanding of the universe? That mystery and the desperate attempts to understand why the aliens are there is at the heart of the film.

Amy Adams stars as expert linguist Louise Banks who is called in by the military to try and fathom the alien’s purpose, only to find herself haunted by visions from her darkest hour. To elaborate further on what these visitors to Earth look like or how they communicate would spoil the experience.

But Villeneuve cleverly draws parallels between those interactions and the ones between nations across the world who must break down political barriers to communicate freely for the first time. It is their descent into fear and paranoia which sets the plot rolling.

And if Villeneuve is making any point with Arrival it is that a clear mind and whole heart goes a long way when making decisions.

Jeremy Renner co-stars as physicist Ian Donnelly. Overwhelmed by his task, his is the character you can most relate to. But Forest Whittaker reverts to type as an authority figure playing Colonel Weber.

Arrival’s plot is a slow burn that requires patience and there are few convenient scenes towards the end that are crowbarred in just so the plot makes sense.

But the film features some mind-bending special effects and a rewarding but bittersweet finale which pulls the rug out from under you.

It changes your whole comprehension of the experience and packs an emotional punch.

With Arrival under his belt, Villeneuve has proved himself as a safe pair of hands for intelligent sci-fi which will relieve those anxiously anticipating his long-awaited Blade Runner 2049.

RATING: 7.5/10