Aftersun (2022) had all of the ingredients to be a slam dunk for me. However, the film written and directed by Charlotte Wells never managed to coalesce me. I watched from a distance and felt emotionally detached from both the story and the characters. There doesn’t appear to be a clear reason, but this is a case where the hype I’d heard going into the movie proved to be a bit too much.
The film opens with camcorder footage of Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall – adult, Frankie Corio – eleven) talking to her father, Calum (Paul Mescal), about turning eleven. The film implies this is adult Sophie reflecting on the ups and downs of a holiday she took with her father twenty years earlier. Memories – real and imagined – fill the gaps between, as she tries to reconcile the father she knew with the man she didn’t…at least that’s what the synopsis reads.
I’m not sure how much of this didn’t connect with me because of watching it from home. My preferred situation for any film is in a theater, as I’m much more likely to surrender to the story on the screen there than when I am at home. Maybe I zoned out or got distracted too frequently to pick up on all of the nuances in the story. However, that’s not what it felt like while watching it. There are moments where we see Sophie as an adult and Calum in what would best be described as a dream nightclub shrouded in shadow. These are clearly imagined memories, but their significance never rang clear with me.
The relationship between Calum and Sophie is obviously strained, but it never felt emotional. Perhaps this type of nostalgia doesn’t resonate with me, as it clearly has for so many others who have seen Aftersun. The stylistic flourishes with the framing device didn’t do anything to help me connect to the characters or this story. That’s not to say I thought the film was bad, or that the performances weren’t impactful – I thought the karaoke scene was easily the most emblematic of their relationship. Yet, it still didn’t bring about the emotion that I’d come to the film expecting to feel.
Aftersun didn’t click for me, and I really wish that it had. I wish I could pinpoint exactly what it was about the film that I didn’t like…instead, I find this to be the most frustrating experience of viewing a film: indifference. It’s far easier to throw praise or shade than it is to feel detached completely. Aftersun earns the Decent Watch rating.