Writer and director Charlotte Wells gets nostalgic for 90s package holidays in her first feature Aftersun. The drama looks back at a father-daughter trip to a Turkish family resort, as Calum (Paul Mescal) takes his 11-year-old, Sophie (Frankie Corio) for a week away. We see their tale through the shaky lens of a camcorder, or through the sun-soaked memories of an older and wiser Sophie, remembering the happy-go-lucky version of her dad as he hid the severity of his problems behind wit and a charming smile.
With winner-stays-on pool by the pool, bad evening entertainment, and the first sips of the dregs of a bottle of cheap lager, Wells packs her narrative with staples of the British holiday experience. There’s even an old Strongbow sponsored Heart of Midlothian football top which serves as a specific period detail within the exquisite production design. Artful compositions and an off-the-time soundtrack enhance the precise tone and style of the piece, magnifying the sticky end-of-summer sadness as the early sense of adventure slowly shifts into peril and melancholia, and Calum’s disturbed state of mind pulls into focus.
Perfecting a Scottish brogue, Paul Mescal gives a nuanced central turn as a young dad struggling to cope with the weight of adult responsibility. Wells cleverly holds back the true extent of his turmoil, so the audience, like Sophie, can’t quite figure out exactly how he broke his arm or what’s making him so sad. Scenes where he has his back to the camera shed some light on his torment; he appears to yearn for his brighter days in one moment as he tokes at a cigarette on the balcony, and then breaks down into a pit of repressed emotion later in the film. Equal in her impressiveness is newcomer Frankie Corio. She brings playful energy and charisma to a role which has a lot of humour, the light comedy taking the edge off the darker elements. There’s a maturity to Sophie’s personality whereby it’s unclear who’s looking after who in parts, and Corio does very well to capture this in her performance.
An impeccably crafted and thought-provoking debut by Charlotte Wells, Aftersun delivers a cocktail of happy hours and heartache, and introduces Frankie Corio as a bright and exciting new talent.
Aftersun will be released in UK cinemas in November 2022