I’ve never seen a movie where so much and so little happens at once.
Aftersun tells the story of a father and daughter lounging away on a Turkish vacation. On the surface, not much happens. However, that uneventful trip shapes how the child thinks about her dad for the rest of her life. Aftersun is a story about the amorphous connection between memories and time.
Calum (Paul Mescal) is the type of easygoing parent most teenagers would kill for. He’s the dad who would rather talk about taking drugs than have his kid learn from some corny PSA. Calum is still young and kind of hip (aside from his dad moves on the dance floor). People even mistake him and his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) for siblings.
Calum split with Sophie’s mom a while ago, so they spend less time together these days. Their trip to Turkey offers a chance to share some quality one-on-one time. They spend their days goofing around by the pool and making small talk over meals.
Sophie and Calum have a warm and candid rapport most of the time. But there are moments when Calum becomes distant and cold. Sophie doesn’t have the emotional maturity to understand what’s going on with her dad, but she feels it. And this strange tension begins to taint Sophie’s childhood innocence.
The story takes place from adult Sophie’s (Celia Rowlson-Hall) perspective. Told mostly through flashbacks and old video footage, the story is Sophie’s way of untangling who her dad really was from how she perceived him.
Aftersun leaves you with more questions than answers. It doesn’t spell out what Calum is going through. Writer-director Charlotte Wells masterfully calibrates the performances, editing, and music in a way that allows you to intuit what remains unsaid.
Be prepared for this unassuming story to creep up and turn you into an emotional wreck. Aftersun levelled me with a tsunami of emotions before I saw the wave coming.
Wells delivers one of the year’s most extraordinary cinematic experiences. You’re about to see Aftersun on all your favourite critics’ best-of-year lists.
This movie deserves every word of praise it receives, but understand most people will love or hate it. I don’t see a middle ground. Wells crafted a powerful and thematically nuanced experience lacking a traditional narrative. Not much happens plot-wise, but the stakes couldn’t be higher emotionally.
So, if someone told me Aftersun bored them silly, I understand.
Aftersun requires viewers to lean in, pay attention, and then engage in self-reflection. The beauty of the movie is how it leads you to wrestle with your own precious memories and question the feelings they’re wrapped up in.
Mescal’s outstanding turn as Calum confirms his leading man status. His nuanced performance paints a captivating portrait of a father barely keeping it together.
Corio matches Mescal’s charming performance beat for beat. At 11, Sophie still has moments of child-like wonder. She’s starting to see life for the s*its*ow it is, but she’s not yet soured on it. She’s a year or two away from becoming an angsty teen and still cherishes every moment with her dad. Watching Calum and Sophie bask in each other’s love warmed my heart.
Cinematographer Gregory Oke shot Aftersun on 35mm film. The movie looks like sun-kissed home movie footage running on a beat-up projector. The warm, saturated visuals create a dreamy, nostalgic atmosphere. The film looks the way I remember my childhood. Oke also uses a lot of tight closeups, giving the film a raw and intimate feel.
Don’t let this sweet little film fool you. At first glance, Aftersun seems as gentle as a lullaby. But in reality, it’s an emotional assassin waiting to eviscerate you. It’s beautiful and devastating in equal measure.
Aftersun is one of 2022’s most elegantly crafted movies. It’s a thoughtful, compassionate, and visually captivating meditation on love, memory, and the passage of time.