“The Vast of Night”, which was released on Amazon Prime in last week, is a little but compelling science fiction film which evokes those fun and scary episodes of old TV series “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” while doing its own interesting things. Although it often looks plain and modest as a low-budget film, the movie is confident and commendable in terms of mood, performance, and storytelling, and I was much more impressed than expected as enthralled by several skillful moments in the film.
After the prologue part which introduces the story as one episode of an old fictional TV series named “Paradox Theater”, the movie takes us to a small fictional town of New Mexico during one night in the 1950s. It is the night for a big basketball game between the town team and the visiting team from some other town, and the movie observes almost everyone in the town arriving at the town gym with lots of excitement and enthusiasm.
However, Everett (Jake Horowitz), a lad who works as the local radio DJ of the town, is not particularly enthusiastic compared to many others around him. He comes there just because he was notified that someone is looking for him, but it soon turns out that there was some misunderstanding, and he is ready to go back to his radio station when he comes across Fay (Sierra McCormick), a girl who works as a local switchboard operator during night. Because she happens to bring a recording device, Fay tests it along with Everett for a while, and we come to sense the mutual feelings between them as they interview a few passersby just for their little fun.
Anyway, they eventually walk away from the town gym because of their respective jobs to do, and the movie tickles us a bit as patiently following their discussion on what Everett recently read from a science magazine. It was an article about the technologies of the future to come, and their lively conversation on those imaginary future technologies took me back to old science books on what may be possible in the future. Many things described in those books looked too fantastic to me at that time, but some of them were actually developed during last 30 years, and I could not help but feel amused when Fay and Everett talked about a device not so far from smartphone.
When they subsequently begin to work at their respective workplaces, things look fine as usual, but then they gradually come to discern that something strange is happening around them right now. Shortly after Fay receives a rather disturbing call from someone outside the town, the phone lines in the town do not work that well to her bafflement, and there is also an inexplicable audio frequency heard during the ongoing radio show hosted by Everett.
After learning of this weird happening, Everett decides to delve into it more along with Fay, and that is the point where the movie becomes more interesting while occasionally serving us what we can expect from its familiar genre. For example, there is a mysterious guy who willingly tells lots of things to our two main characters on the phone, and then there comes another caller who also has her own strange story to tell.
As our two main characters keep digging more into this odd circumstance, director/co-producer Andrew Patterson and his crew members throw a number of impressive visual moments to be savored and appreciated. While a terrific sequence where cinematographer M.I. Littin-Menz’s camera smoothly glides from one spot to another during one long, unbroken shot is definitely the highlight moment of the film, I also like the scene where the camera patiently focuses on Fay’s reactions to what she hears from the radio and the phone lines, and that surely exemplifies well the power of suggestion and imagination. Although we have a pretty good idea on what is really going on, we become more absorbed into her growing fear and concern nonetheless, and we come to care a lot about what may happen to her and Everett at the inevitable finale waiting for them from the start.
While constantly maintaining some distance from its story and character via its framing narrative structure, the movie keeps engaging us with its solid mood and details. Although this is a low-budget film, Patterson and his crew members did a good job of establishing the authentic period atmosphere along with the palpable sense of suspense and dread, and they also pay a modest but nice homage to a certain famous film by Steven Spielberg around the end of the film.
Two lead performers in the movie are convincing in their earnest acting. While Jake Horowitz does not stay away from his character’s rather abrasive side, Sierra McCormick is particularly good when the movie depends a lot on whatever she is demanded to convey via her expressive face, and they ably hold the movie together when it rushes itself a bit too fast during its third act. As the two substantial supporting characters in the film, Gail Cronauer and Bruce Davis are equally effective, and Cronauer has a quiet but undeniably gripping scene where her character phlegmatically reveals a longtime secret of hers to Fay and Everett.
Overall, “The Vast of Night” succeeds as much as intended within its boundaries, and it certainly shows us that Patterson, who made a debut here with this film, is a good filmmaker with considerable talent and potential. I think it is one of the notable debut works of this year, and it will be interesting to see what may come next from him.