Aftersun, as a product, is meant to soothe. One uses it after a sunburn to avoid peeling. Aftersun, as a film, doesn’t have the same intention. Instead, it works to softly peel back the layers of childhood memories, once merry, now more melancholy. Despite it being Charlotte Wells’s debut film, Aftersun feels as lived in as the fading vacation resort its protagonists, 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) and her father, Calum (Paul Mescal), pass through. While Sophie begins the familiar dance of adolescence, Calum, who is young enough to be mistaken for her older brother, is also coming of age, albeit under the stress of adulthood. The cracks of Calum’s struggles are plain to viewers, like when he goes dancing, and Sophie is left to sleep alone in the hotel lobby, interrupting an otherwise very sweet, if slightly strained, father-daughter relationship. Now, 20 years later, hindsight reveals those murkier moments to Sophie more clearly, and she grapples to reconcile them with the happier ones, like when she and her dad played pool and pulled pranks. Who was he then and who is she now? True to life, the answers remain elusive, but thanks to Wells’s evident confidence, this story, constructed slowly and focused on small moments, is more mesmerizing than most. R, 98 min.
Music Box Theatre, wide release on VOD