Alex is a shy young teen who has a huge crush on his next-door neighbor Stacey. He enlists the help of his best friend, Eddie, who’s loyal but also a bit of a doofus. But Stacey doesn’t seem to notice Alex as more than a friend and neighbor.
But then a meteorite crashes on the outskirts of their small Australian town. Intrigued and curious, Alex and Eddie join forces with Stacey, who’s a space enthusiast, to investigate. Their ad-hoc exhibition seems hopeless, though Alex and Stacey get to know one another better. But when they stumble across a smoking barn. Alex and Stacey investigate, discovering both their feelings for one another and something out of this world.
Written by Stephanie and Jaclyn and directed by Nick Crowhurst, this short sci-fi short harkens back to the innocence, imaginative fancy and charm of classic 1980s films like “E.T.” or “The Goonies,” which capture the restless aimlessness of childhood and the thirst for adventure that aims to fill the empty hours.
Though the film clearly has a nostalgic feel, from the set and costumes to the synth-heavy musical score, the storytelling has unforced ease and naturalism. The narrative itself may not be innovative, but it doesn’t aim to be. Instead, the storytelling finds comfort and fun in the rites and rituals of youth (and capturing a time before helicopter parenting, constant parental anxiety and social media cancel culture.) But the dialogue and its attentiveness to the budding hopes and insecurities of first crushes are sharp and lively, and the emotions feel classic and true to young teenagers past, present and future.
The visual craft, too, finds a nice balance between an evocation of sweeping, dynamic 1980s Spielberg fantasy and a relaxed, loose naturalism that captures the placidity of the small town and the vistas of rural Australia. Though the narrative clips along at an engaging pace, viewers are given the space to absorb the world and particularly the characters, who are brought to life with great ease and charm by the film’s young cast, led by actor Sebastien Skubala, whose understated and sweet as the boy with a crush on the whip-smart girl-next-door, played deftly by Kiki Nicholls. The trio of characters has a great rapport, particularly as they play off actor Liam Daughtry, who carries off the role of humorous foil Eddie well. Collectively they have a lovely understated quality in their performances but are also able to hit moments of comic pique when needed.
“Down to Earth” ends on a cliffhanger, and the short is clearly the opening chapter of a much larger story. Though this short works well as a snapshot of first love and crushes amidst great adventure, audiences will want more, especially because the young characters are so compelling and charming to watch. It’s an entertaining, beguiling and warmly engaging reminder that no matter what is happening in the world — whether it’s the real world of politics and strife or the fictional one of alien apocalypses — there is still magic to be found in ordinary moments of love and friendship.