Aftersun is the feature debut for writer/director Charlotte Wells, and it is remarkably assured. Wells has a vision and is not afraid to put it on the screen, meaning Aftersun works at its own pace, and Wells only reveals the minimum needed to understand the characters.
There isn't much of a plot. A young woman looks back on a vacation she took with her father when she was 11. It isn't always clear that we are looking at the past, nor is it clear that the young woman is remembering that vacation. Wells lets us figure out the details for ourselves, and the details are in the picture ... it would probably benefit from a second viewing. But that's not really necessary, thanks largely to the acting of Paul Mescal as the father and Frankie Corio as his 11-year-old daughter.
I always say, when a film features a good performance from a young actor, it's important to credit the director for eliciting that performance. Directing youngsters isn't easy. Here, Wells is aided by Mescal, who has a great rapport with Corio. In young Sophie, Wells has created a character that seems the right age, not too precocious, not too childlike. Corio is perfect in the role. She and Mescal are completely believable as a daughter and father.
You have to settle into the pace Wells provides. Not only do events occur at a leisurely pace, there are few "shocking" scenes to startle the audience. Sophie's transgression are minor, and the father's emotional difficulties are buried deep. This fits with what Wells is trying, but it is true that after 102 minutes, I was ready for the end. Aftersun is neither too long nor too short.
The film's pleasures are low-key, but they do exist. It helps, though, if you approach it in the spirit in which it was made. Aftersun is the antithesis of a blockbuster, and it suggests Charlotte Wells has a strong future ahead of her.