Aftersun review: Paul Mescal is insanely good at this heartbreaking father-son romance that will surprise you every time you watch it

On the surface, writer-director Charlotte Wells’s deceptively simple presentation may seem like more than just a father-daughter holiday drama. A distracted father takes his know-it-all daughter on a frugal summer vacation.

hey will barely talk. They can access local websites. Then, just as things are settling down, something terrible will happen, and a loud argument will occur, etc.

No, not today. Not this movie.

Indeed, Wells (making her film debut) digs a little deeper. The clue was in the casting.

Paul Mescal – at this point, synonymous with the kind of moody, wistful masculinity that viewers like to feel sympathy for – draws from what he learned from Normal person and extend it with both alarming confidence and astonishing naturalism.

The Maynooth native took on the role of a Scottish father in sundown and – at least to these ears – his Edinburgh accent is perfect. Combined with a budding young actor, the remarkable Frankie Corio, and a thoughtful semi-autobiographical script, the result is a movie that’s more successful than you might expect.

We started on a crowded resort bus. Calum (Mescal) and Sophie (Corio) arrive in Turkey late at night, bones aching, minds focused on something other than their holiers. They’re not your typical father-son duo.

Apparently it’s been a while since they shared the same space. Calum is separated from Sophie’s mother – there is some talk of financial concerns and a new flat in a place other than Scotland. He’s open with Sophie, not to the point of scaring the poor kid, but enough to suggest that, despite the distance, their relationship is healthier than most.

On the first day, Calum encourages Sophie to make friends by the pool. She says that they are too young and that he should make friends with his parents instead. They are too old, Calum scoffed. Yes, both of our weak leads are broken.

Meanwhile, the resort looks the same as everywhere else. Loud construction work echoes in the background, while nightlife includes mischievous Macarena dances and lively Karaoke sessions. You know the type.

In the end, Sophie’s head is filmed by a group of drunken teenagers. The boys offer a tantalizing glimpse of impending adolescence, and Calum allows her to spend time with them. It gave him space to practice Tai Chi and visit a local carpet dealer. At this point, you’ll convince yourself of what happens next – but again, Wells plays a different game.

There was a desperate, cruel sadness bubbling under the surface. Somewhere in between, Sophie told her young man that she was feeling frustrated.

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He asked her to open up, and her answer – an innocent yet accurate description of what sadness means – weighed heavily on his heart. Ours too. Poor Calum wasn’t feeling well, his unshakable sadness was slowly showing. Things can get complicated.

An undeniably quiet, reflective and captivating display, sundown (co-produced by Oscar-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins) occasionally toying with a special framing device.

We believe an adult Sophie (played by Celia Rowlson-Hall) is revisiting home videos of their late 1990s getaway.

These grainy snapshots provide an entrance into the story, and the film that follows raises some interesting questions about memory. To begin with, how we remember our loved ones – in fact, how we define our parents. Does Sophie know about her father’s inner turmoil? We’re not quite sure.

Whatever the case, this introspective, artistic feature works very hard to stand out from the pack. A light, slow film with rare quality and depth, sundown set you up on one route, then welcome you into another. It does so in a light, unfussy way that nicely captures the clumsy, choreographed freedom of a cheesy family vacation.

Mescal is terrifyingly good as a tortured soul, doing his best to protect Sophie – and himself – from despair. He and Corio (a talented performer with a bright future) shine in each other in ways that make it hard to believe they’re not related. Elsewhere, the final shot is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.

There’s so much going on in sundown that I might have to revisit it, and you know what? It will definitely break my heart a second time. A beautiful movie. Aftersun review: Paul Mescal is insanely good at this heartbreaking father-son romance that will surprise you every time you watch it

Fry Electronics Team

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