Aftersun movie review & film summary (2022)

“Aftersun” is clearly told from Sophie’s point of view, but an attentive viewer will note that there are scenes where Sophie is not present. So the film is from the point of view of the grown Sophie, a grown-up – new parents herself – who looks back on that vacation and is curious about what her father must have gone through. She knows her own holiday memories. But what was the matter with him?

Wells intersperses the holiday with surreal, dreamlike “rave” sequences in which a grown-up Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall, whose 2016 directorial debut “Ma” I so admired and reviewed for this site) stands on a crowded dance floor and gives fleeting glances upon her catches her father squirming to the music in the intermittent flashes of strobe lights. She wants to come to him, touch him, hold him. Sophie is now grown up. She understands him much better now. How about if she could talk to him? They still had so much to say to each other. In a way, Aftersun is an act of imaginative empathy. Sophie can now see the things that child Sophie couldn’t see.

This once distant point of view, this slightly distanced attitude, gives the film its melancholy melody of almost elegiac sweetness. Right now it’s all sunshine and laughter, Calum and Sophie eating ice cream, taking mud baths, swimming, never mind that the resort is cheap and under construction. What matters is being together. Mescal (so beautiful on “Normal People”) gives such a tactile, down to earth performance that is grounded in the details. There are glimpses of worry and self-loathing, his fear of not being good enough, not being a good provider, or disappointing her…all the things he has to hide – and for the most part has to hide.

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Frankie Corio is a newcomer. She is alert, sensitive and a totally natural presence. The dynamic between Corio and Mescal is nothing short of amazing – they are so comfortable together! They are playful and thoughtful, they please each other but are also capable of hurting each other. This dynamic is, of course, a tribute to Mescal and Corio, but also a tribute to Wells’ gift for both casting and working with actors.

Cinematographer Gregory Oke uses a soft, rich palette, summery and saturated, and often keeps the frame off-center, destabilizing the angle of view. Calum is often seen through a door or as a reflection – in a mirror or a TV screen – obscured, half there, half not there, similar to the gazes of grown-up Sophie at the rave: the strobe is so intense it’s impossible to get him completely to see, to perceive him as there and in the flesh. Sound designer Mehmet Aksoy does a good job too, especially in a scene where Calum trudges to the beach for a swim in the middle of the night. Calum is swallowed by the blackness, and the gentle lapping of the waves slowly escalates to the sound of the crashing surf.

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