It’s been another strange year. Perhaps more so than ever, the way films have been released has been in a confusing state of flux. What’s coming to cinemas? If it makes it how many screenings will it actually have? What’s going to which streaming service, and when? There have been a lot of excellent movies released in 2021, but sifting through them has been challenging, even if you’re doing your best to keep up.
Here, the HeyUGuys team have a few suggestions for things that may have slipped through the cracks, but which we think you should catch up with.
Daniel Goodwin Recommends
The Summit of the Gods (Patrick Imbert)
Based on the Jiro Taniguchi manga, this visually breath-taking, staggeringly dramatic, 90s set, French animated feature tells the tale of Nepal based, Japanese photojournalist Makato Fukamachi (Damien Boisseau), who happens upon the old Kodak camera of a climber who died in the first Mount Everest expedition, back in 1924.
Fukamachi tracks the camera to reclusive climber Habu Joji (Rich Ting), who was believed to be missing for many years. Fukamachi then joins Joji on a potentially perilous expedition where the men learn more about each other’s true natures while battling death defying odds and trekking through/ ascending such majestic, mountainous settings.
This faithfully adapted and captivating drama from director Patrick Imbert (The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales) and co-writer Magali Pouzol, premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival but tragically bypassed UK big screens.
Despite this, it is still a total joy to behold on the small screen at home with beautiful animation that perfectly captures the biting cold and tension of Fukamachi and Joji’s adventure.
The Summit of the Gods is available on Netflix.
Sam Inglis Recommends
Shadow in the Cloud (Roseanne Liang)
Roseanne Liang’s second film is a slice of pure B Movie gold. Chloe Grace Moretz plays a World War 2 pilot, mysteriously added to the crew of a bomber at the last minute, bringing with her a package that must be protected at all costs. Locked in the gun turret under the plane, she has to leave her package with the chauvinistic crew, but that’s the least of their problems once the plane is attacked by a batlike creature they call a gremlin.
Liang and co-screenwriter Max Landis (I don’t think it’s tough to see the join between their material) serve up a lot of different movies in Shadow in the Cloud’s slender 83 minutes, from World War 2 actioner to claustrophobic thriller to B Monster movie. With its incident packed narrative, ludicrously silly action, vivid red and green lighting and synth score this often plays like a throwback to bottom shelf ’80s video store fare, but it’s more fun and smarter than that.
Moretz is as good as she’s ever been and as the film runs on, Liang frames her more and more as a feminist superhero, right up to the triumphant closing image and cut to credits, paired with the perfect song. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, as the mixed reviews suggest, but it’s a crying shame it just got buried on Amazon Prime and, really, 83 minutes is a running time worth taking a punt on.
Shadow in the Cloud is available on Amazon Prime and on UK DVD in February
Holler (Nicole Riegel)
I’ve long felt that distribution is broken. Yes, there are independent distributors for cinema and home doing some sterling work for smaller films, but so much continues to fall through the many, many cracks. Holler, as yet undistributed in the UK, is a case in point. A small scale drama about a young woman (Jessica Barden) who desperately wants to escape her dead end neighbourhood, where she sees few prospects, for college. To raise money she joins a local scrap metal crew, working on the fringes of the law, and soon gets caught up in the danger of that job.
Writer/Director Nicole Riegel makes her feature debut here and, while the film’s incident might occasionally feel rote, the dialogue is grounded and well written, and her visual sense is striking. Almost every frame of the film features faded red, white and blue, whether it’s in Ruth’s clothing (notably her hat) or somewhere in the background. It’s as if we’re seeing the looming presence of the unfulfilled American dream seep into the movie.
Jessica Barden has been the highlight of almost everything she’s been in for more than a decade, and Holler is no exception. She’s ten years older than her character here, and while she can pass for the right age, those extra years give Ruth a slight air of world-weariness before her time. More than that though, what Barden has is something innate, something you very seldom see: the apparent inablity to strike a false note as an actor. It doesn’t feel like performance.
It’s not a perfect movie, but its the kind of small, character driven thing that allows great actors to grow without having to do the kind of histrionics that so often impresses awards juries. In short, I wish it, and a hundred things like it, had been properly released.
Holler is available on US Download services including ITunes, Amazon Prime and GooglePlay
A Ghost Waits (Adam Stovall)
Ghost movies generally bore me. I know going in what’s going to happen; someone will move into a house, everything will be fine on the first day, then some furniture will move, or something will go creak. This will continue until there’s a scene in which nothing happens for an extremely long time until… BOO SCARE. Repeat ad infinitum. I am, of course, being somewhat facetious, but I do find I can count the scares in most of these films off in my sleep. This is why a surprise like A Ghost Waits is so welcome.
Adam Stovall’s film, co-written with lead actor MacLeod Andrews, finds aimless 30 year old handyman Jack fixing and cleaning up a rental property after the occupants leave in a hurry, breaking their lease. It’s not the first time, and Jack soon finds out that it’s because the house is haunted by Muriel (Natalie Walker, making a strong feature debut). In the process of trying to finish his job, he falls for Muriel, making her job rather difficult.
A Ghost Waits skewers the cliches of the ghost movie in amusing fashion right from the start, when we see a nonplussed Muriel relax from her screaming scary face as soon as the occupants run out of her house. It continues to make great use of the cliches, with the audience always aware that it’s Muriel opening cupboard doors and making chairs rock when nobody is in them. More gags come from brief moments that dig into the bureaucracy of haunting; laugh out loud moments that come off like a no budget look at the afterlife’s staff room. The satirical aspect of the film reaches its height when, after Jack and Muriel have started talking, a younger, greener, ghost (Sydney Vollmer) is drafted in, and the film leans into exactly how predictable the jump scare aspect of these films is.
What’s most refreshing though is the film’s second and third act shift to romantic comedy. Stovall and Andrews’ dialogue makes an easy connection between Jack and Muriel, and Natalie Walker’s shift from being annoyed that she can’t scare Jack away to having Muriel be as drawn in by him as he is by her feels natural. By the film’s end, their relationship is genuinely sweet and funny. On the whole it’s a great mix of elements, from parody to comedy to honest emotion, and you don’t often get all of that in 79 minutes.
A Ghost Waits is available on Arrow Video Blu Ray, and on Arrow Player.
Jon Lyus Recommends
Sound of Metal (Darius Marder)
Darius Marder’s phenomenal exploration of the connection of identity to our senses will, hopefully, not remain overlooked for to long. Oscar buzz was thrown up in the wake of its release but, like many films which opened wide only on streaming, it seemed to get lost in the rush of release of pandemic-delayed films. We shall wait to see if Riz Ahmed and his co-star Paul Raci are given the nods when the awards nominations are announced. Both are worthy, both could win.
Ahmed’s considered, powerful evocation of the raw emotion one undergoes when the known world changes is one for the ages. Few actors are neither given the chance, nor have the ability, to lead a film with a vulnerability which has such visceral propulsion.
Directorial choices from Marder help to envelope us into this new world of Ahmed’s character, Ruben. In directing a film of this nature he is walking through a cliche minefield. Yet, with the help of his cast, he soars high above it.
You may not have heard much about it, but – trust me – this is a film people will be talking about for years.
Sound of Metal is available on Blu Ray and on Amazon Prime
In the Earth (Ben Wheatley)
The all-too-real fear suffered by all over the last two years will, no doubt, fuel countless films and TV series for decades to come. But few will be as on the bloodied nose as Ben Wheatley’s forest-bound horror film, conceived, filmed and released during the time of COVID.
Assuredly mixing blood-soaked horror, English folklore and the present tussle between dreads real and imagined, Wheatley’s descent into the dark of the forest is one of his finest films yet.
In The Earth is available on Blu Ray, Sky Go and multiple download services
Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond)
There was a wave of acclaim for director Prano Bailey-Bond’s feature length debut this year. Arriving way back in January at the Sundance Film Festival our review details why we loved the film so much. Huge credit has to go to Bailey-Bond and her lead actress Niamh Algar for allowing us to invent many of the horrors herein.
Like Peter Strickland’s 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio, Censor asks a lot of us. Like the best art we are invited to bring much of ourselves to the film. Suggested violence and gore is often more effective than what is shown on screen, and that has never been more true.
The Video Nasty outrage is fertile ground for a horror film. Censor cleverly evokes the moral panic while asking and answering the question of what it means to be overexposed to the films in question.
Censor is available on Mubi and Sky Go, and comes to Special Edition Blu Ray on January 31st
Liam MacLeod Recommends
Cowboys (Anna Kerrigan)
Perhaps the pandemic kept this one from hitting cinemas, perhaps it was simply never meant to be. Fresh from BFI Flare, Cowboys was a sweet, exciting and nuanced film about a transgender kid going on the lamb with his Dad, to start over in Canada.
A beautiful portrait of both an older generation’s attempts to grapple with a thoroughly modern issue and the glorious Montana landscape. Steve Zahn leans heavily into and against type as Joe’s rugged working-class father Troy. A true modern-day cowboy who struggles with the modern world, suffering both financially and mentally. One thing he never struggles with though is his love for Joe, the two sharing a palpable bond solidified by non-binary newcomer Sasha Lane’s ability to nail an extremely difficult role.
While Jillian Bell imbues a transphobic mother with impressive empathy, engagingly fun and folksy but desperate not to lose the daughter she’s always wanted. Also, Ann Dowd plays the badass cop tracking Joe and Troy, and how can you not love the idea of Ann Dowd playing a badass cop?
Cowboys is available on Sky and Now TV, and on multiple download services.
Rose Plays Julie (Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy)
Rose Plays Julie was a taut psychological thriller that served as a fantastic showcase for newcomer Ann Skelly (The Nevers). Portraying a young woman’s attempts to find her birth parents, leading to a ruthless and deadly vendetta against her biological father.
The film toys with the slippery slope of imitation to actualization. Rose’s vocation as a veterinary student providing both an outlet and the tools for her violent impulses. Her mother (Orla Brady) is revealed to be an actress who has spent a career pretending to be someone, anyone other than the victim she was. So too does Rose play a part, posing as an actress researching a role, to get close to her father, played to snakelike perfection by Aiden Gillen.
It’s an extremely tense and unnerving film that constantly gets you to question Rose’s intentions, are all her pursuits malevolent, can she really murder and how do her actions impact those around her? Considering the small cast and slight budget Rose Plays Julie manages to be more frightful and insightful than any of its big budget contemporaries.
Rose Plays Julie is available on Blu Ray and multiple download services.
Love and Monsters (Michael Matthews)
On the one hand Love and Monsters has some flaws. On the other, it opens with ‘This is The Day’ by The The, so those flaws can get in the bin. ‘This is The Day’ is like auditory serotonin, guaranteed to get you ready for a good time. And Love and Monsters is a good time, a fun sci-fi adventure romp with an incredibly relatable premise.
A meteor has mutated all of Earth’s animals into nigh unkillable monsters and the few remaining humans cower in bunkers from the hellscape above. Until absolute dolt Joel (Dylan O’Brien) ventures out in search of his ex-girlfriend because he’s sick of being the last single guy in the vault. Honestly, who’d blame him? Once you get past the notion of Dylan O’Brien lacking romantic interest what follows is a exciting cross country journey filled with unique creature designs and an excellent eye for action by South African director Michael Matthews.
O’Brien really sells that characterisation of Joel as a shellshocked sadsack, making him an incredibly relatable lead as he fumbles loveably from one set piece to the next. It hardly hurts matters that his true love Amy is played by Iron Fist’s Jessica Henwick, who remains a charming presence even when limited to radio contact. Plus, suitably villainous human bandits with a novel twist and a supporting turn from the consistently great Michael Rooker.
Love and Monsters is available on Netflix
Ben Robins Recommends
Wrong Turn  (Mike P. Nelson)
Not many horror franchises get five sequels deep before totally changing direction for the better. And yet somehow, the 2021 Wrong Turn is one of the best horror films of the year. Writer Alan B. McElroy’s original was a nasty-edged naughties slasher, which quickly fell down the cheap-and-sleazy rabbit hole of depravity that is the straight-to-DVD horror market.
This newest entry, a semi-remake penned again by McElroy, feels like a whole trilogy in one, skimming over the original concept before spinning off into a much more nuanced and interesting look at backwood cults. At times darkly funny, at others feeling like the plot from a lost Resident Evil game, it’s a fascinating (and genuinely fun) look at how to revitalise even the most spiritless of franchises. Even the end credits are killer.
Wrong Turn is available on Blu Ray and Netflix
Greenland (Ric Roman Waugh)
Not so long ago, Gerard Butler dropped his A-lister sheen, and turned to trashy, balls-to-the-wall genre movies as his bread-and-butter instead. And thankfully he never looked back. So it’s safe to say that most of us sat down with Greenland expecting the smashy-crashy, insanely silly breed of disaster movie the trailer alludes to.
The film itself though, is actually anything but, dropping Butler into more of an everyman, and swapping out green-screen silliness for something that’s been missing from these sorts of movies for far too long – human characters, and genuine, nail-shredding tension.
Maybe it’s the fact that it landed smack bang in the middle of our own semi-apocalyptic reckoning, but Greenland is absolutely terrifying, and played lean and mean. Not so sure about the last few minutes, or the very real threat of a sequel, but that’s by-the-by – this is everything a disaster movie should be; one that hinges not on boring, rudderless CGI destruction, but on people, and that all-too-real concept of our time together rapidly running out.
Greenland is available on Amazon Prime
David Roper Recommends
I Care a Lot (J. Blakeson)
Although it was generally fairly well received critically, I Care A Lot (unfairly in my view) disappeared from view far too quickly. Of course in these modern times of limited to non-existent theatrical releases and streaming debuts, far too many films vanish without a trace, lots in algorithms like tears in rain, but I felt this one should have received more love.
Anchored by a superbly sociopathic performance from Rosamund Pike, ably supported by Peter Dinklage, Eiza Gonzalez, Dianne Wiest and Chris Messina, I Care A Lot tells the tale of a professional court-appointed legal guardian, who gets herself appointed to manage the financial affairs of the isolated and wealthy, only to then dump them in a care institution and bleed them dry in legal fees. Pike’s Marla Grayson stumbles on Wiest’s seemingly vulnerable, wealthy elderly lady, sees dollar signs, but fails to reckon on her in fact being much cherished by a gangster who does not take at all kindly to her being exploited.
Now, in the interests of full disclosure and declaration of interests, I have actually acted on occasion as just such a legal guardian (we call them professional deputies on this side of the pond) and so in the same way as Win Win, erm, won me over some years ago, I have to concede that my familiarity with and interest in the subject matter may have caused this to stick with me more than it otherwise might have.
Having said that, one would also tend to think that the brouhaha this year over Britney Spears and her suffering under the heavy hand of a conservatorship (much the same legal structure as I Care A Lot covers) would have piqued audience’s interests a lot more in I Care A Lot – how can this sort of thing happen? and so forth – but I suspect that this is part of the issue with streaming audiences. Films might feature prominently for a week or so on the home page of (in this case) Amazon Prime, but very quickly audiences are seeking out new content and so the machine has to keep rolling. I can’t help but feel that in a different time, with a more conventional roll out in theatres, with building word of mouth, this might have been a modest hit.
As it is though, I Care A Lot still exists and is still available to watch and I would warmly commend it to you all. The detailed, almost forensic depiction of how Marla finds, controls and abuses her victims (and let’s not make any bones that this is what is happening) is at once thrilling and horrifying and although some took against the final act entirely, it remains a gripping depiction of resolve, invention and the determination on the part of one woman to not be pushed around and dictated to by men.
It is a molasses-black comedy thriller and further proof (if it were needed) that no-one can match Pike for presenting gentle, elfin features that belie a heart of darkness. Fascinating, gripping, compelling and well worth your time.
I Care a Lot is available on Amazon Prime
Jo-Ann Titmarsh Recommends
This debut feature by Italian rising star Laura Samani could easily fall off your radar, but it is worth seeking out. It is a tale steeped in folklore and religion, interweaving pilgrimage and fairy tale. A young woman, Agata (Celeste Cescutti), gives birth to a stillborn baby. The only way for her daughter to receive a baptism is for her to take one breath after birth. For this to happen, Agata must embark on a perilous journey from her seashore home and up into the mountains (where curious woodland creatures and brigands reside) in order to reach the miraculous shrine.
This is an assured directorial debut with a great central performance full of intensity. Set in Samani’s home region of Friuli Venezia Giulia in northeast Italy, it looks great and sounds incredible: I particularly loved the change in dialects as the grieving woman ascends to her destination and the women singing on the beach in the film’s opening scene. A big small film that should not be overlooked.
Small Body is yet to be released in the UK