Recommendation: It’s rare to find a sci fi film with such vision and execution. Both small in scale, yet hinting at a grander world, The Vast of Night delivers. 8.5/10.
IMDB Synopsis: In the twilight of the 1950s, on one fateful night in New Mexico, young switchboard operator Fay and charismatic radio DJ Everett discover a strange audio frequency that could change their small town and the future forever.
Over the last decade, sci-fi genre films (not fantasy) have diverged into one of two camps. The big budget spectacles meant as cash cows, with varying degrees of success—see: MIB International, Jurassic World, Extinction, etc—and the oftentimes better indie films that fly under the radar like 10 Cloverfield Lane or Prospect. Falling into the latter category, Director Andrew Patterson’s debut The Vast of Night is a stunning achievement in its focused vision and rapturous storytelling. Without relying on a big budget, CGI, or big names (as many indie sci fi’s do), Patterson has crafted an eery, throwback, sci fi mystery that hints at a larger world—and hopefully a larger career.
Akin to a bottle episode of a show and through the narrative device of a Twilight Zone-sequel show, The Vast of Night all takes place in the span of a night, in a quiet, rural New Mexico town in the 1950s. It follows the charismatic, quick witted, and popular Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz), and naïve yet plucky high schooler Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick). Meeting up at the local high school basketball game and continuing to their respective jobs—Fay is a telephone switchboard operator and Everett a local radio personality—Patterson is quick to establish the characters, making the world feel fleshed out.
In what could be called the second act, Fay noticed a number of irregularities in what would be an otherwise unremarkable shift on the job. Everett’s radio broadcast goes out, a weird sound plays through one of the calls she’s connecting, and there’s an emergency call about something in the sky. It should be noted that the scene of Fay switching lines, making calls and piecing together the disparate parts is incredible feat of filmmaking and acting. Looping in Everett and playing the sound to his listeners, the duo receive a call that hints at the sound’s connection to UFOs. With some amateur sleuthing, a minor break in, and a stolen car, the two unearth an archived tape from 30 years ago, playing the same sound.
The third act is Everett and Fay running around town, meeting up with other UFO spotters, interviewing a very creepily effective septuagenarian looking for her alien abducted son (played by Gail Cronauer), and ultimately solving the mystery they’ve stumbled upon. Where lesser films would devolve into an act full of comical action, overwrought philosophy, or bad CGI, The Vast of Night shows restraint. Keeping the stakes of the world small, yet enormous for the characters, allows the audience to buy in on this journey completely.
In the end, there is no shroud of mystery; no interpretation needed. It’s a perfect capsule. A wonderfully constructed pastiche of a bygone era of television and movies, which a modern bend. Movies—especially sci fi, alien romps—do not look or feel like this anymore, opting for cynicism, pure action or dystopia rather than mystery and genuine wonder. The Vast of Night provides a throwback viewing experience, one that is wholly welcome today.
Find it here on Amazon.
Highlights: The period-appropriate, rapid fire dialogue is refreshing, smart, and entertaining. And the 10-ish minute scene of Fay when she gets to work at the switchboard is incredible.
MVP: It’s a pretty even two handed but Sierra McCormick is it, playing a character that exudes of naïveté, precociousness, and maternal instinct.
Director: Andrew Patterson
Studio: Amazon Studios // Release date: May 29, 2020 (Amazon)