The Vast of Night opens with an announcement that we are about to watch the latest episode of something called Paradox Theater. While the fact that what we’re watching is supposed to be a television show never directly ties into the plot, it’s still a clever little twist that pays homage to old anthology shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. It’s appropriate because The Vast of Night tells the type of story that one might expect to see on one of those old shows. It’s the story of two ordinary people confronting the unknown.
Taking place in New Mexico in the 1950s, The Vast of Night tells the story of two friends. Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz) is a teenage disc jockey at the local radio station. Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) is a switchboard operator. The opening scenes of the film are devoted to Everett and Fay walking around the local high school. Fay has a new tape recorder, which was apparently considered to be something of a luxury item in the 1950s. Everett is full of advice. They’re both immediately likable and their friendship is enormously appealing. They’re the type of people that I would want to be friends with if I ever found myself living in the 1950s.
Everett goes to his job at the radio station. Fay takes her seat behind the switchboard. She listens to Everett’s show, which is suddenly interrupted by a strange audio signal. Fay starts to get calls from people reporting some sort of strange phenomenon in the sky while Everett asks if anyone who was listening to the show can identity the origin of the signal. An unseen man named Billy (played, in a wonderful voice-over performance, by Bruce Davis) calls and explains that he used to be in the military. He tells Everett a story that, at first, seems impossible to believe but, as the night goes on, becomes more and more plausible.
Filmed in my home state of Texas, The Vast of Night is triumph of atmosphere and good writing. This is an independent film that makes brilliant use of its low-budget, using unknown (but talented) actors and just a few locations to tell a story that grows progressively creepier with each passing minute. Making his directorial debut, Andrew Patterson keeps the story running at a steady and involving pace while collaborating with cinematogrpaher M.I. Litten-Menz to fill the screen with shadowy images and tight close-ups that work to keep the audience off-balance.
There’s an authenticity to The Vast of Night, one that would probably not be there if the film had been a big budget studio film. Despite the opening declaration that we’re just watching an episode of a TV show, the characters in The Vast of Night feel very real. Whether it’s Billy saying that he never told his story to anyone because he figured they wouldn’t believe him because of the color of skin or the character of eccentric old Mabel (played by Gail Cronauer), telling her strange story in the most comforting tones possible, the film is full of little details that bring the story to life,
It’s an entertaining film, one that builds to a somewhat unexpected climax. The story and the characters stay with you after it ends. I look forward to seen what Andrew Patterson does next and Sierra McCormick deserves to be a big star. Watch the movie on Prime. It’s good.