BFI #LFF 2018: LAST CHILD Film Review

Kim Yeo-Jin and Seong Yu-bin in LAST CHILD

Shin Dong-Seok makes an impressive and understated debut with LAST CHILD, an emotionally wrenching family drama about loss and heartbreak

South Korean writer-director Shin Dong-Seok tackles a multitude of weighty themes in his impressive and understated feature debut LAST CHILD, an emotionally wrenching family drama about dealing with loss and heartbreak.

Six months after the death of their teenage son Eunchan, Misook (Kim Yeo-jin) and Sungcheol (Choi Moo-Seong) are still attempting to come to terms with their loss of their boy. Eunchan lost his life while valiantly trying to save another boy – Kihyun (Seong Yu-bin) – from drowning so when Sungcheol discovers Kihyun has dropped out of school as a consequence of bullying, he decides to intervene. The grieving father, in an act of kindness, decides to take the boy under his wing, attempting to instil some drive and purpose in the listless young man. But as Kihyun slowly becomes part of the couple’s life, he confesses a shocking truth behind Eunchan’s death.

Choi Moo-sung in LAST CHILD

The sense of grief and desolation in LAST CHILD is palpable from the opening scene. This wonderfully meditative drama about loss, grief and reconciliation is very much a slow burner, the first two-thirds of the film calmly observing the three main characters, gradually revealing their respective pain, confusion and guilt in front of our eyes. Dong-Seok’s careful and thoughtfully balanced script allows us to understand and emphasize the characters, so much so that we care a lot about what happens to them as they continue to struggle with their complex moral circumstance.

But just as the story seems to be moving towards some form of hope and redemption, Dong-Seok delivers a dramatic twist with a revelation that throws the central trio’s relationship into chaos. The quiet, almost serene sequences of before are suddenly replaced with something darker and more downbeat. Isolated by their grief and ostracised for the need for truth, the trio spiral into an abyss of destructive violence and despair and the serene tone of before is replaced by drama and tension.

Seong Yu-bin in LAST CHILD

Much of the film’s success lies in the excellent performances of its three leads with Shin allowing his cast, rather than the script, to tell the story. Choi Moo-sung delivers a subtle, nuanced and low-key performance as Sungcheol, showing the softer side to the gruff working-class man. Kim Yeo-Jin carries much of the emotional weight, moving from anger to despair in a heart-breaking performance. Seong Yu-bin, meanwhile, does a decent job of demonstrating Kihyun’s mess of conflicted emotions, holding his place among his two co-performers and successfully conveying the boy’s see-saw feelings of self-loathing and happiness.

Yet while Shin’s drama is bleak in the extreme – it’s emotionally intense scenes weigh heavy on the heart – it’s also strangely hopeful. This is a tough watch but is undeniably powerful, making LAST CHILD linger on your mind for a long time after the credits have rolled.

4.5 out of 5 stars

LAST CHILD screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 13 October 2018.