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Last Child
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by Jay Seaver

"For better or worse, it's hard to stop being a parent."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Last Child" is an impressive, understated film about dealing with loss and heartbreak, tied up with a parent's needs and duties. It has a hard time avoiding some issues in the end as the new bonds that have been formed must be tested, but that's not necessarily a negative; these things should be awkward and not quite fit easily.

As it opens, it has been some months since teenager Jin Eunchan drowned, and his parents are not grieving in the same way: Mother Misook (Kim Yeo-jin) is cleaning his room and offering things to his friend Joonyoung, as well as considering the possibility of another child; father Sungcheol (Choi Moo-seong) is handling the paperwork and establishing a scholarship fund to commemorate that his son died saving a classmate's life. He asks about that other boy, Kihyun (Seong Yu-bn), and discovers he hasn't been to school in months. He checks in, offers to help, and soon has a new apprentice in his wallpapering business.

There is a special sort of joy to films where the story is told through learning a trade, even if the audience doesn't really learn along with Kihyun. The symbolism of the job is fun to play with - director Shin Dong-seok spends more time on Sungcheol and Kihyun applying base layers than the final layer, which makes it a fine metaphor of how a parent's job is to prepare a child to survive on his own, leaving room to think about how kids like this are rootless and unprepared. There are other moments, naturally, where the focus is more on covering up mistakes and stains, something that will show its head later.

Shin mostly allows his cast to tell the story, and the core group seldom stumbles. Choi Moo-seong is the one who allows the audience to get kind of comfortable, putting a calm, coping mask on Sungcheol, making it clear that there's a softie not far underneath the gruff working-class exterior, but putting just enough extra effort into getting by for the audience to see the weight. Kim Yeo-jin goes the other way as Misook, carrying the weight around at all times, looking angry but also just beaten. The actress seems to recognize that the character crawling out from underneath her trauma the way she does is not entirely natural even if it is laudable, and always seems a bit off as a result. Seong Yu-bin, meanwhile, does a fair job of showing how Kihyun has a different sort of pain and sees the opportunity to bounce back more clearly, managing the see-saw of self-loathing and happiness to have found a place very well.

Shin handles the bits of the film that are about reaching out and recovering well, finding beauty and comfort in the details of the Jins' business and handling the shock to Misook of Sungcheol helping the boy she blames for her son's death in an understated, non-melodramatic manner. It's a simple, clear, unhurried style of filmmaking that feels easy to relate to without pointing at anything specific, even if it is also dropping something to be used later in the occasional corner. The last act is a bit more problematic, piling on more direct conflicts that certainly serve purposes - the depression and anger of loss can certainly return and stir things up well after a person thinks they have recovered - but it's a bit odd that a viewer will probably start to feel the movie's length and seeming lack of direction at the point where they can most clearly see Shin trying to tell a story.

That sort of late stumble is tricky, but not by any means disqualifying - indeed, there's something right and proper about a film about a difficult subject not handling anything everything with perfect assurance. Loss is messy and hits people in incompatible ways, and that's at the heart of what does work about "Last Child".

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32361&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/14/18 09:52:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Dong-seok Shin

Written by
  Dong-seok Shin

  Moo-Seong Choi
  Yeo-jin Kim
  Yu-bin Seong

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