Aftersun review: a subtly powerful first feature from Charlotte Wells

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Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio star in Aftersun – which explores the complex relationship between a father and daughter on holiday together.

Featuring an incredible performance from the young Frankie Corio, Aftersun is a quiet and contemplative drama about the relationship between a father and daughter. The first feature from director Charlotte Wells, it’s shown from the perspective of Sophie as an adult (Celia Rowlson Hall), who’s reminiscing on a holiday to Turkey she shared with her now-estranged father (Mescal) when she was 11 years old. 

Aftersun is really good at capturing various aspects of childhood. It deals with memories of holidays, the experience of having separated parents, and the awkward first steps towards adolescence. While the film is set in the sunshine of Turkey, and often brings in those typical holiday locations of the pool, the arcade, and the evening entertainment, it’s actually a very serious and melancholy drama. It uses the sunniness of its setting to juxtapose it with the bitter-sweetness of the memory and the sometimes-strained nature of Sophie’s relationship with her father. It makes for an interesting mixture – it’s a film that in many ways should feel happy (and sometimes does) but overall is a sombre experience. 

While Aftersun sports a strong supporting cast, the focus remains on Sophie and her father Calum. Mescal conveys brilliantly the inner turmoil that plagues Calum – a feeling he tries desperately to hide from Sophie. Meanwhile, Sophie is trying to connect with her father while also trying to gain some independence and begin the process of growing up. The two characters are emotionally complicated, and so is their relationship. Thankfully the rapport between Mescal and Corio is strong enough that they’re easily able to display the duo’s complexities as well as their clear affection for each other.

The fact that the plot itself is very simple and relies on the relationship between the two leads does create some problems with pacing, and if it weren’t for an important subplot about Sophie I feel Aftersun would struggle to justify its runtime. 

Sophie’s story of entering adolescence is an interesting additional facet of the story. From an acting perspective, it allows Corio to wander off without Mescal and really shine by herself. Her scenes show the two sides of the character – the childish half and the half that’s becoming a teenager. The former is seen when she interacts with other children, which is playful and innocent (though she doesn’t often want to give other kids the time of day). Other times, she hangs around with a group of teens she’s befriended and attempts to act grown-up in the way everyone at that age does. 

Corio’s performance is just incredibly down-to-Earth and believable, as though she knows herself exactly how Sophie feels. This realistic, understated tone runs throughout Aftersun, and helps to convey the melancholy nature of the film even more. It’s a simple but quietly powerful film driven by complex performances from Mescal and Corio. 


Aftersun is in UK cinemas from 18th November.

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