Quick-Thoughts: Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun

Charlotte Wells is really on a mission here to revitalize reflection shots…

…but much bigger than just the compositional techniques here — which are, by the way, surprisingly calculated for something that generally appears so unrefined — is her revival of cinematic pathos. Next to Maggie Gyllenhaal who’s also directorial debut is about a tourist trip turned curse, a few up-and-coming filmmakers this decade have so far been trying to cultivate this vital area of storytelling while mostly everybody else — even you indie drama folk — enforce it in traditionally chintzy, structurally overdependent ways. Aftersun is so in the moment that it doesn’t even need plot deviations for you to get why this should hurt so much to consume; every revelation is already insinuated at the gecko and from there on forward gradually built upon. It trusts the audience in that regard to let the piled-on little glimpses tell you everything you need to know about what this means to the video-watcher and reminiscer herself, someone whose finite knowledge is shared with us. The spoon-feeding therefore becomes relatively repressed, at least more so than the status quo like a real memory.

Deep down inside, I’m a little pissed I didn’t come up with this gimmick, but that’s how I know I vibed with it unlike the majority of them this year. Aftersun is definitely up my alleyway when it comes to execution — even reminded me of how I’ve edited my recent college short films. It’s further inspiring how I’d like to express movies that are dedicated to memory; the liminal space (in footage and out) and modern contempt from it fused into a new core reminder that our time on Earth simply can’t discharge. And that climax is pure brick hits — picture the Hotel Room anomaly sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), yet it doesn’t star one human soul, but two of them: one jumping through time but the other trapped in a single event, and they’re somehow painfully interlinked, disrupting the peaceful passage of life, a purgatory-like contradiction to the recaller’s ability to move on the clock. Maybe this trapped one is your parent, or a normal conjoining of the two, the rock to lean on that mostly everybody else has day in day out, privileges that we don’t have reappearing in others or home video tape and wakening their spirit to us in a memory of when they were active.

Even when the obligatory feel-good, emotional heightener of a track eventually inserts itself during this culmination it doesn’t seem overdone; if anything, the film knows it’s damn well earned it whereas most would tack it at the coda as a sticking final blow to make up for a weak job, which is far from the case here. Nonetheless, it’s mostly meek memory dumping up until then that naturally haunts from its incessant absence of closure. Through in throughout though, it triumphs on that simplicity and the easy control of it with an anchor on lived-in performances and transitions that keep everything mobile, and it’s frankly heart poison to ride. 

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that this is the best emotional manipulation I’ve seen from a movie all year. Perfect for the equally manipulative coming holidays, as my heart grew (or perhaps shrunk?) three sizes this day.

Verdict: A-

2022 Ranked

“Aftersun” is now playing in select theaters. 

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