An intimate and brutally honest take on girlhood, motherhood and the immigrant experience solidifies Girl as a must-watch. Set in working-class Glasgow, the film follows young mother Grace (Déborah Lukumuena) and her 10-year-old daughter Ama (Le’Shantey Bonsu) as they navigate the individual and combined challenges of life in a new city. Can they survive as family unit in the face poverty and social services scrutiny?
Director Adura Onashile makes use of silence, omitting dialogue and favouring the skills of her actors and cinematography. It’s a risk that pays off. Lukumuena maintains a vulnerability in her performance, subtly keeping tensions high and us, as viewers, wholeheartedly engaged. The actor conveys this paranoia through a solemn yet fiery countenance.
Onashile’s good eye assists Lukumuena in preserving this. The director incorporates close-up and extreme close-up shots to emphasise the intimacy and eventual hostility between mother, daughter and the rest of the world. Visually, it’s colourful yet intense, vibrant yet gritty, spacious yet intricate.
In cinemas next year
Hoard opens pungently: in 1984, primary-age schoolkid Maria (Lily-Beau Leach) lives with her mother (Hayley Squires) in a ramshackle house cluttered with teetering piles of stuff. She is, yes, a hoarder. It’s a mother-daughter dreamland with squalor and sadness underfoot.
Ten years later, with assured newcomer Saura Lightfoot Leon now playing Maria, we see her living something like a normal teenage life with her foster mother – until, that is, her mother’s ashes are delivered to her one summer morning. Complicating the picture is Michael, played by Stranger Things alum Joseph Quinn. Returning to the scene of his own fostering many years earlier, his appearance further catalyses Maria to dive into her difficult past.
The pair’s offbeat, arresting chemistry is a wonder to behold, with a brilliant ambient score almost becoming a scene partner for the actors, intensifying their performances. Director Luna Carmoon, 26, also makes use of symbolism to keep her audience enthralled, emphasising plot points within the script and deftly reintroducing them later on. As a meditation on compulsion and grief, Hoard is both agonising and magical, and makes for passionate cinema.
In cinemas in spring 2024
All of Us Strangers
Emotional despondency is a recurring theme at this year’s LFF (see also: Foe and Fingernails), but Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers bears emotional weight with a flair unlike any of its contemporaries. With the concept of love and loss dominant throughout, the film follows Adam (Andrew Scott) as he enters a relationship with a peculiar neighbour (Paul Mescal). As romance flourishes, Adam discovers his long-deceased parents to be alive and, well, having not aged a day.
This romantic fantasy mashup from the director of Weekend and Lean on Pete is stunning in all facets. From the nuanced acting performances to a luscious original score and mystifying visual aesthetic, All of Us Strangers hits the mark in every way.
Scott and the ever-impressive Mescal capture the essence of the film to perfection. What makes their performances special is the effortlessness with which they portray a genuine, familiar situation in the midst of a seemingly illusory environment.
Admittedly, Haigh conceals those unreal plot elements for a majority of the film’s runtime, and this can be an obstacle to complete immersion. However, once the director makes way for the film’s heart-rending climax, his decisions are justified. All of Us Strangers is devastating. Erotic, nostalgic and masterfully constructed, the film takes us on a harrowing journey through sorrow and a chimeric pursuit for resolve with little to no interval. But you won’t even want one anyway.
In cinemas on 26th January 2024
Breaking out with an energetic freestyle rap, Black Dog quickly thrusts us into inner-city London, brimming with youth, vigour and originality. Snappy editing and consistent acting performances reflect the grit of the city, before the two protagonists head for the hills.
This debut from young filmmaker George Jaques is an account of two teens who unwittingly become bound together on a road trip from London to Scotland. Across the trip, the pair bond as they come to terms with the significance of their journey.
Nathan (Jamie Flatters) and Sam (Keenan Munn-Francis) are total opposites. Flatters, the South Londoner last seen in Avatar: The Way of Water (and who co-wrote the script with Jaques), delivers a performance as carefree as his character, while brilliantly weaving in emotional depth as the film progresses. Likewise, Munn-Francis demonstrates a thorough understanding of Sam, with an unfeigned portrayal that encapsulates the theme of mental health earnestly.
Black Dog may lapse into relying on familiar tropes to hurry its character development along, such as the old “hotel room with only one bed” standby. But as a low-budget project from young filmmakers, the energy, vision and passion – not to mention the actors’ performances – aren’t to be faulted.
In cinemas next year
Bones and all: the second feature from Apostasy director Daniel Kokotajlo is a period folk-horror of grief and loss, encroaching madness and long-buried offerings excavated from the bottom of the field. In this rhapsody of 1970s browns, Yorkshire greys and pagan greens, Juliette (Morfydd Clark) and Richard (Matt Smith) are living in his late parents’ remote farmhouse with their troubled son Owen. After the five-year-old, who’s been hearing an eerie whistling in his head, pokes a wooden stick in the eye of a pony in the village, the family turn inwards and seek professional help. When things go from weird to devastating, Richard, an archaeology lecturer, starts digging: in his dad’s old journals, in ancient tales of “wood sprite” Jack Grey and in the secrets-concealing dirt of the property.
Smith is a moody, brooding, haunted Heathcliff, pacing the windswept moors as he tries to locate a long-buried piece of local legend called the “womb of nature”. Clark, in a performance familiar from the terrifyingly devout nurse she played so brilliantly in Saint Maud, is an unsettling presence throughout. Add a perfectly shivery score by Matthew Herbert and you have an atmospheric British chiller, adapted from modern gothic maestro Andrew Michael Hurley’s 2019 novel.
In cinemas next year