“Tension meanders and never finds its place until the final fifteen minutes”
You always want what you can’t have. Charlotte Wells’ feature film debut Aftersun juggles the perspectives of 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) and her father Calum (Paul Mescal) on an end-of-summer beach vacation. Sophie wants to be a grown up— she’d rather play pool with the teenagers than get to know the other kids. She has the maturity, independence and curiosity of someone double her own age, but how has this come to be? When we look at her father, we see a sorrowful young man, unable to hide a disdain for having lost his youth to parenthood. He tries to maintain a hold on adolescence by living vicariously through his tween daughter. Sophie is forced to be the parent in their dynamic— she is responsible for her dad’s wavering mood and she has to tuck him in at night after passing out in her bed and locking her out. It’s no wonder she wants to be an adult: she’s not allowed to be a kid.
The film is bookended by the loaded question, “When you were eleven, what did you think you would be doing now?”, which Sophie asks while holding a camcorder up to her dad. This naivety is charming to the audience, but soul-crushing to Calum. The duelling emotions exuded by leads Mescal and Corio thread the needle of the plot together, and without them the narrative is rather aimless and oftentimes nonexistent. Tension meanders and never finds its place until the final fifteen minutes. The undeniable saving grace is the cinematography, which partnered with the early aughts costumes and production design, makes the film a visual success.
Despite being a Cannes festival favourite, Aftersun gives what might be expected from a freshman debut— a script two drafts away from being complete, and one that is perhaps too personal to connect with a wide audience. Suffice to say, it could have been a very impressive short film. A24 bought the movie after its festival premiere, proving that the production company is quickly transforming its filmography from subversive indie masterpieces to movies where nothing happens but are pretty to look at.