“At First Light,” written and directed by Jason Stone, takes a Spielbergian science-fiction story and wraps it in a gritty but hopeful indie package. Steeped in low-key naturalism, many of the film’s sequences feel more like “The Florida Project” than “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” or “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
Théodore Pellerin plays Sean, a self-reliant, recent high school grad living near the poverty line with his younger brother (Percy Hynes White) and nearly comatose grandmother (Janet Laine Green) in a shabby Central Valley apartment. After Sean’s upper-class ex-girlfriend Alex (Stefanie Scott) has a near-death experience, strange phenomena follow her, and the pair flee as they try to figure out what is going on.
Pellerin and Scott are such deeply compelling performers that you are likely to forgive the familiarity of the lovers-on-the-run, first-contact narratives (Andrew C. Erin co-wrote the story). Every role is cast with precision, including Saïd Taghmaoui and Kate Burton as government agents, and the production design and special effects effectively bridge the gap between realistic drama and sci-fi wonder.
Stone doesn’t explicitly ask the straightforward, big-picture questions you’ll find in a film like “Arrival.” But his attention to detail and character, and his ability to render those people in recognizable settings, is engrossing. Your satisfaction with “At First Light” will be heavily dependent on your willingness to go along for the ride and project your own questions.
‘At First Light’
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 28, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD