Always Shine, an astutely moody little chamber piece with gleaming performances from Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald, quietly dropped onto UK streaming platforms this past week without even a quiet parp to announce its presence.

It's only because I obsessively skim over obscure dates on numerous movie-release websites (which I can now comprehend with a simple glance, as if they were code from the Matrix) that I even noticed its impending VOD-only drop in the first place. And I'm glad I did because the film had big hype from plenty of festivals. As far as I can tell, it had a 'proper' release in the States -- but when it came to the shores of this relatively tiny island, it seems to have skipped our screens entirely and burrowed itself a comfy hole in the internet. At first, I didn't understand why -- but after seeing the movie itself, I've a few thoughts which may explain it.

Always Shine isn't a horror. It's not a drama. Nor is it a thriller, a slasher, a comedy, or even a black comedy. It's entirely content to be just what it is tonally, and considering it's Sophia Takal's second feature, its relaxed confidence is refreshing. Although it may feel like any combination of the above styles at a given time, it never fully borrows from genre; it simply does what's best stylistically for the current moment, and any resemblance to genre tropes are merely arbitrary. The closest comparison in film would easily be Ingmar Bergman's Persona, or Alex Ross Perry's recent Queen of Earth-- but even then, that's a similarity I'm basing on content over form.

I believe it's this difficulty in pinning Always Shine down which strangely defines it and makes it memorable. It's also what's probably stopped it getting to UK theatres; at least in the US, there are relatable aspects from its almost insular references to Big Sur culture, along with the mannerisms and secondhand relationships which litter the world of the low-scale actor. These are small things that could make it fractionally more accessible in the US, while over here, there are no such threads to grab hold of. A teeny number of US moviegoers would be willing to cough up their cash; far less UK moviegoers would.

But whatever the reasons actually are, the powers-that-be deemed Always Shine unsuited for a regular UK theatrical release, and opted not to tackle full-on distribution and instead focus on a digital existence, where a niche audience could potentially seek it out. I'm also assuming this saved them not-insubstantial financial worry. (Please understand that this is conjecture on my part. Well, educated conjecture.)

What does this type of quiet release mean for small-budget filmmakers like Takal? Will her and her peers' work ever be seen within the walls of a British theatre, at the very least on limited release? I'm not feeling hopeful. David Ehrlich put it excellently in a recent piece for Indiewire: streaming platforms like Netflix are guilty of purchasing great indies from promising directors, only to have the subsequent release sink beneath the waves of their mass-content ocean. Time will tell if the movies from 'big' filmmakers Netflix have purchased, such as Okja (Joon Ho Bong) and Mute (Duncan Jones), or even Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, will change all that and make films feel like events when they debut on VOD. But right now, the spark just isn't there.

Those are movies I've already made my mind up about seeking out in a proper cinema. For something I may have heard less about, such as the terrific Always Shine, I probably won't even get an option to. From this point on, the only thing similar films have to look forward to are hollow clicks in imperfect viewing environments -- and we'll realise long after it's happened that it's not just the filmmakers losing out, but us too.

Gary Green is an unabashed lover of Pitch Perfect, and a freelance film critic. You can find more of his work by heading here.