Watching The Vast of Night delivers the joy of discovering a secret, never-before-released episode of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Now, imagine if this long-lost hidden gem was also a brilliant homage to Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds. The Vast of Night is all that and yet still manages to feel completely original and dynamic.
The story’s set in the fictional small town of Cayuga, New Mexico during the 1950s. All of the events occur over the course of one night and center on two charismatic characters. Fay (Sierra McCormick) is a high school girl and part-time switchboard operator who’s the proud owner of a brand-new tape recorder. Everett (Jake Horowitz) is a fast-talking radio DJ who’s kind of a big deal in this very tiny town.
It’s the night of a big high school basketball game as the action unfolds. Everett takes Fay around the gym’s parking lot, teaching her how to use her new recorder to conduct interviews. At this point you might feel a little put-off by their rapidfire chit-chat – especially as Everett’s persistently speaking around a cigarette clenched in his lips – but settle in and give your brain a chance to catch up to the dialogue’s cadence. The adjustment comes fairly quickly.
Shortly after Everett starts his shift at the AM radio station and Fay settles in at the local switchboard things begin to get weird – and that’s weird as in creepy and extraterrestrial. Fay receives calls from people reporting something strange in the sky while Everett’s radio show is interrupted by bizarre unearthly noises.
Fay and Everett team up to ferret out the cause of the commotion. Their hunt for the truth leads them to phone conversations with an anonymous source who provides backstory on the town’s history with aliens. Hidden reels of tape and a woman with a troubled past help complete the terrifying picture.
First-time feature film director Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night is an astonishing rookie effort. Working off a screenplay by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, Patterson’s sci-fi drama is a riveting, character-driven homage to a bygone era. The film opens with a callback to The Twilight Zone, framing this story as part of a fictional Paradox Theater television show. That framing is repeated but not overused throughout the film. And there are The Twilight Zone and War of the Worlds Easter Eggs for sci-fi fans to geek out over strategically placed and smoothly woven into the story.
Have you ever started to watch a film and realized within the first few minutes it’s about to deliver something completely, refreshingly unexpected? Amazon Studios’ The Vast of Night is one such film. From incredibly long tracking shots to more intimate framing, director Patterson holds the audience in suspense. He even does the unthinkable – fading to black and relying only on the dialogue to engage the viewer.
The cinematography, production design, costume design, and editing are first-rate, effectively making the ’50s spring to life on screen. In fact, the entire production has the feel of a much larger budgeted film.
Horowitz and McCormick deliver breakthrough performances, and Patterson’s first directorial outing should earn him a spot on everyone’s directors to watch list. The Vast of Night isn’t flashy, but it is bold and mesmerizing.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 89 minutes
Streaming Release: May 29, 2020 on Amazon Prime