6. Slash/Back (2022)
Nyla Innuksuk’s directorial debut can best be described as scrappy. It’s a low-budget sci-fi flick with a cast of amateur actors navigating a script that is, at times, inconsistent. It’s hard to ignore the lack of polish, especially when you put Slash/Back up against comparable movies like Attack the Block and Turbo Kid. At the same time, there’s something alluring about the movie’s low-budget charm. Even if it can’t match some of the sci-fi heavy-hitters, there’s more than enough charisma to satisfy fans of the genre.
Slash/Back revolves around a group of young teens who take a small town’s alien invasion into their own hands. In a town with an abundance of helpless adults, the adventurous young heroes must conquer the looming extraterrestrial threat, and they’ll do whatever they can to make sure their town is safe.
The likable leads do a lot to enhance the film, but overall, Slash/Back works simply because it’s charming as hell. It’s very obviously a directorial debut, warts and all, but it’s a refreshing little movie with more than enough memorable moments to stick with the average viewer.
7. The Block Island Sound (2020)
The Block Island Sound, like so many independent sci-fi films, continues to polarize casual viewers. Trailers painted it as a more horror-driven monster movie, but in reality, it’s a leisurely paced drama that’s almost entirely devoid of large set pieces and gruesome violence. It’s notably low-key, and ultimately, its approach to storytelling leaves viewers with just as many questions as answers. In other words, it is not the movie that was advertised.
That doesn’t make it bad though. On the contrary, The Block Island Sound works better because of its more idiosyncratic features. What could have been a generic action-horror flick turns out to be a more thought-provoking look at mental illness. The central themes, which are tied together by terrific performances from the relatively unknown ensemble, thankfully push viewers into uncharted territories, resulting in a movie that should click with a certain group of viewers.
8. The Pink Cloud (2021)
The Pink Cloud is not a happy movie. It’s a raw, poignant debut from a daring director. It’s also a particularly relevant release considering the recent pandemic.
In the film, a one night stand turns into something much greater after a deadly cloud forces society to take shelter. Giovana and Yago, the unlikely pair at the film’s center, must form a relationship while dealing with the consequences of a worldwide pandemic. This strained relationship tests their patience, as does the general isolation brought on by the mysterious pink cloud.
Again, the COVID parallels are hard to ignore, and in a lot of ways, they make for a better viewing experience. Still, even if you ignore the obvious comparisons to real life, The Pink Cloud is a beautiful, albeit melancholic, drama made stronger by two powerful lead performers. It’s not made for people with small attention spans, but it caters to its intended audience well.
9. Ultrasound (2022)
Yet again, as with every list like this, we arrive at an entry that’s best when it’s shrouded in mystery. When it comes to Ultrasound, viewers who know too much are liable to lose interest because, frankly, most of the fun comes from the central mystery. Because of this, we’ll keep the summary brief.
Following a flat tire, Glen is forced to take refuge in a nearby home owned by Art and Cyndi. While Cyndi seems normal enough, Art’s behavior gets increasingly more bizarre. Glen’s discomfort with the situation turns out to be just one of many problems.
Ultrasound is a twist-filled psychological thriller, and while not all of the surprises land, it’s more than capable of holding the average viewer’s attention just because of how daring it can be. Plot holes be damned, this is a (mostly) mesmerizing trip that constantly attempts to catch viewers off-guard. When it’s successful, it sticks with its viewers.
10. Vesper (2022)
Sci-fi blockbusters often have a tendency to feel too similar, which is why this list is such a necessity. There are so many smaller films that completely separate themselves from an admittedly crowded feel. Vesper, for example, could have been a generic dystopian movie with cookie-cutter characters and unexciting worldbuilding. Instead, it’s a fairytale-esque oddity that feels wholly unique.
Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper deliver a fascinating world with rich characters at every turn. It’s perhaps most comparable to the works of Hayao Miyazaki, but even that comparison feels unfair. In a world with so many familiar works, Vesper feels like a breath of fresh air. Just understand that it doesn’t have the budget of its competition.