62nd BFI London Film Festival: Last Child Review
There is nothing more distressing for parents than to lose a child. It is no wonder that the topic is one of the hardest to convey on the screen, especially so since the grief and unimaginable suffering take on many different faces and stages. The complex, confusing and isolating feelings associated with the loss of a beloved son, as well as guilt, are at the core of Shin Dong-seok’s debut feature Last Child.
Sung-cheol (Choi Moo-seong: The Discloser, Room No.7) and Mi-sook (Kim Yeo-jin: TV Drama – Where Stars Land), a married couple, are lost in grief after losing their teenage son, who accidentally drowned while trying to save his school friend Ki-hyun (Seong Yoo-bin: Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds, I Can Speak). The two parents deal with the grief differently; they don’t speak much about the incident until Mi-sook comes up with the idea of having another child. Six months pass, and Sung-cheol begins to wonder what happened to Ki-hyun; the latter unexpectedly dropped out of high school and now works as a delivery boy. After meeting him, Sung-cheol recognizes that the young man is in need of guidance and support. Within a short period of time, Sung-cheol and Mi-sook build a good relationship with the teenager; they enjoy each other’s company and the couple slowly start to accept the boy as their own. However, Ki-hyun carries a secret that is gradually eating him up from the inside; will the truth of what happened make the bond between the three crumble?
Last Child realistically portrays the shattering experience of losing a child. It also provides a wonderful platform for a conversation about a variety of human emotions and behaviours during the process of grieving. In a subtle way, Shin Dong-seok draws an incredible portrait of the three protagonists while maintaining a good pace, including in the last, crucial 20 minutes of the film. The filmmaker knows how to keep the viewers invested in the story without getting them detached due to the complicated, harsh reality of pain and complexity of human relationships as the characters in the film face the ultimate hardship.
With flawless performances by Choi Moo-seong, Kim Yeo-jin and especially the 18-year-old Seong Yoo-bin, Last Child successfully pulls the audience into the film. Yoo-bin is the true star of the film; he gave his best performance to date. Watching him combine a palette of emotions – from fear to sadness, as he builds his courage to tell the truth about the death of Sung-cheol’ and Mi-sook’s son – is sublime; this young actor is a force to be reckoned with in the future.
Lee Zi-hoon, the film’s cinematographer, coherently shot the action, actors and settings are well framed and with clean editing by Lee Young-lim and his flawless transition between scenes makes Last Child be a compelling story about the hope in human righteousness and atonement.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Last Child