Young teen, aspiring writer and UFO enthusiast Greg is an outsider in his life, constantly wearing headphones to block out the world. And he’s just been rejected from his top choice of writing program, casting him into a fog of dejection.
His girlfriend Julia takes him to a concert to take his mind off things. But Greg can’t help but brood, even going through boxes of his old stories. But when a paper cut brings him back to the present, he tosses the whole box away, his future and confidence as a writer uncertain.
On his way to the concert, though, he sees a bright light that he thinks is a UFO. He goes after Stevie, the other only person who sees the light, to confirm what they’ve seen. After discovering Greg’s cut is miraculously healed, they embark on a night of adventure.
Logical and science-driven Julia goes after them in an effort to track down Greg, and together they have their own encounter with something bigger than themselves.
Writer-director Austin Harris has created a remarkably gentle-hearted and wondrous sci-fi short about hope and yearning. Tonally in debt to filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, who often explored the wonder and positive possibilities of a world beyond what we know, the story is a beautifully classic and impeccably crafted tale of connection, where the hero finds understanding and empathy through a shared faith in the transcendent.
In a genre that is notable for its often cold, clinical take on dystopian themes — as well as its lack of diversity — “Stevie’s Aliens” stands out for its warmth and humanity. There’s a literal warmth in the mostly nighttime cinematography, and the camerawork has the sweep and elegance of a film like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The score, too, offers both spookiness and grandeur when appropriate, hinting at the strange yet magical encounters with alien life.
When it comes to its characters and dialogue, the writing and storytelling shows a generosity of spirit, with great pains taken to delineate their specific perspectives and voices while keeping the pacing clean and efficient. The performances around Greg have a heightened quality — and often very funny moments — but lead actor Devin Mojica as Greg himself remains understated, specific and honest in every moment, lending a groundedness to the film’s many flights of fancy.
There are also great moments of levity and humor as these three different personalities converge — and a wonderful sense of connection and community that develops when they come together. The result is a film that leverages just what makes the medium magical in the first place, captivating audiences with charm, wonder and even innocence.
“Stevie’s Aliens” may seem to some like an exercise in nostalgia, and the film is unabashed in its inspirations. But with its themes of hope and transcendence — and its eye to diverse casting — such classicism and openheartedness feels fresh and much needed, especially in a tumultuous and contentious world. The ending will likely leave viewers wanting more — and the set-up certainly feels ripe for a feature adaptation — but the feelings of optimism and even joy it inspires will remain, well after the final glowing frame.