In film, like fashion, what’s old is often new again. Within the last few years, themes and elements that punctuated the 1980s are being revisited by a new generation of filmmakers. While Jason Stone’s bland new indie First Light may not have the dirt bikes and role-playing games of E.T. or the recent reboot of It, the film trades heavily in Reagan era tropes including alien visitation/abduction, “gifted” teens on the run, and faceless, malevolent government scientists in hot pursuit.
Above a desolate strip mall, a swarm of lights dances over the top of buildings. Cal (Saïd Taghmaoui), a grizzled middle-aged fellow with a Geiger counter at the ready, appears in a beat-up SUV and frantically follows these pulses of light until they disappear into the dusty landscape, leaving him wild-eyed and breathless at the foot of a buzzing radio tower.
“…her with telekinetic powers that would make both Jean Grey and Magneto green with envy.”
The film then cuts to a local pawn shop where two brothers are hocking items that once belonged to their estranged mother. The older of the two, Sean (Théodore Pellerin), is a gangly youth with a stone-faced demeanor and wide brown eyes that betray a deep well of loss. At 17, he’s the de facto caretaker of his volatile younger brother and his infirmed, disabled grandmother. This is a quite a burden for anyone, let alone a hormone-addled, teenage boy. Yet, Sean shoulders these responsibilities with a resignation that betrays his young age.
When Sean’s devil-may-care friend arrives, Sean is cajoled into temporarily giving up the “single mom” act go to a nearby party. Leaving his brother to look after grandma, Sean heads to the shindig where he runs into his ex-girlfriend, Alex (Stefanie Scott). From their stunted conversation, it’s apparent that while emotions between the two are still quite raw, the attraction remains. However, when Sean heads home, Alex and her stock 80s-esque jerk-off boyfriend head to a nearby quarry for a moonlight swim. After ignoring the high voltage warning signs at the quarry’s entrance, Tom somehow loses track of Alex who is seen unconsciously sinking into the murk. Before she passes out of frame, the strange white lights that appeared at the film’s outset return and begin rhythmically circling above her. And here things begin taking a turn toward the supernatural.
Alex, thought missing or dead by her family and friends, is discovered by Cal as she shambles down an empty stretch road. Uncommunicative and seemingly in shock, Cal manages to contact Sean who picks her up and takes her home to sleep off “whatever he (Tom) gave you.”
“…a keen flair for creating both an interesting visual and aural palette.”
When Alex suffers from an obligatory nose bleed at Sean’s house – a la Eleven in Stranger Things, it’s apparent that she’s somehow entered her own upside down. Cross-cutting waves of memory and sound wash over her, light bulbs start popping, objects begin floating, and the once comatose grandma is suddenly cured of her debilitating illness. The lights that appeared above Alex in the quarry were, in fact, extraterrestrials. In the process of rescuing her from a watery grave, these E.T.s imbued her with telekinetic powers that would make both Jean Grey and Magneto green with envy. “There was something in the water with me. I can still feel it,” she says. Unfortunately, the flip side to her newfound abilities is that Alex has become literally radioactive and the unwittingly subject of a search by a nefarious army of hazmat-suited goons – riding tricked out huge black SUVs of course.
On the run from the man, Alex heads to the bus station while a radiation poisoned Sean runs after her. Before she can board, he professes his loyalty and affection for her. “I feel like we’re in Bonnie and Clyde,” he says as the bus lurches towards headed for parts unknown. This would be an apt comparison if, instead of packing heat and robbing banks, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had been imbued with radioactive alien powers and a whole lot less on-screen chemistry.
By the time the inevitable capture-by-feds/supernatural-escape/alien-encounter transpired, my interest in the on-screen shenanigans had sadly waned. Try as I might, I just wasn’t all that invested in the fate of Alex and Sean or their own private close encounter with the third kind. Which is a shame as the filmmaker shows a keen flair for creating both an interesting visual and aural palette. Perhaps, in his next flick, Mr. Stone will branch out and mine new territory without kowtowing to worn out cinematic tropes from the days when VHS was still king.
First Light (2018) Written and Directed by Jason Stone. Produced by Michael Baker. Starring Stefanie Scott, Saïd Taghmaoui, Théodore Pellerin and James Wotherspoon.
2 out of 5 stars