“How about you try to be a teenager for one night, and then you can go back to being a single mom in the morning?”
So 17-year-old Sean (Théodore Pellerin, The OA) is told near the beginning of First Light. Abandoned years ago by his mother (we never hear about the father), and left looking after his younger brother Oscar (Percy Hynes White) and his near catatonic grandmother, Sean is an unusual adolescent, forced by very adult responsibilities to bypass the usual kicks that accompany coming of age, and to lose touch with his childhood friend Alex (Stefanie Scott). Sean may be alienated from his more fun-loving peers, but – loyal, considerate, tolerant and caring – represents the very best in humanity. When Alex has a close encounter with the strange lights that have been hovering over their small American town and starts undergoing a radical metamorphosis, Sean is unsurprisingly quick to help her – even at great risk to himself – as she attempts to fulfil a new inner purpose she does not fully understand.
Written and directed by Jason Stone (The Calling), First Light traces the dawn of an adult relationship not just between these two fugitive teenagers, but between Earth and the Other. For together, Sean and Alex form the adolescent bridge for our own species’ tentative baby steps towards a more mature kind of being. Where so many films about alien arrivals involve hostile invasions and aggressive welcomes, here the spirit is more Spielbergian, with the extra-terrestrials a reflection of, yes, our uncertainties and fears, but also of our better selves – even as guns are briefly glimpsed but never fired, their conspicuous non-use serving to signify the story’s vision of a more benign cosmos.
There are superpowers and moments of awe (the climactic one somewhat overegged by the accompaniment of M83’s ‘Outro’) – but the focus on Sean’s character (Alex’s is too drastically transitional to qualify) and his acceptance of change keeps everything here admirably down to earth.