Set in the 1950s and taking place in the tiny fictional town of Cayuga, New Mexico, this vintage setting allows the low budget production to feel like a choice rather than a hindrance. Everett (Jake Horowitz) is an arrogant local DJ who is putting out a nightly show, and Fay (Sierra McCormick) is a telephone exchange operator. She starts to hear strange echoes and crackling sounds through her system. She records it onto her own reel-to-reel recording device so Everett can air it, asking if any listener can identify it. What follows is intermittent blackouts and a caller with a very unusual story.
The Vast of Night is framed as a fictional episode of Paradox Theater (essentially The Twilight Zone), with an occasional camera pull back reminding audiences that this is a black and white TV show. This allows the film to play with B-Movie tropes, paired with whip smart dialogue and smart nostalgia. The film opens with the camera chasing our lead pair through the school hall, car park and streets of their small town. It gives the illusion of the audience stalking the duo and looking in on their private conversation. At times cinematographer Miguel I Littin-Menz’s camera work struggles to keep up with them with their fast pace walking and talking. There is a frankly audacious extended shot that that pans across the time, allowing viewers to understand the geography of this town. These shots enable the little town of Cayuga to become the third lead character.
The Vast of Night is essentially a two-hander between Horowitz and McCormick, with the rest of the town at a local basketball match. They flirt, fight and argue like the Bacall and Boggart’s of cinema’s past. The dialogue is quick and smart, yet never too quick or self-important. Everett is a chain-smoking, charming heartthrob whilst Fay is a whirlwind of questions, eyes picking out from behind large frames. Fay switches between calls and conversation at a lighting speed, she is whip smart but knows she will never have the same chances to leave the small town as her male counterparts.
For a feature with a budget of less than $1 million, this is a fantastic attention to detail. Focusing on this small town, and only showing limited amount of space, they have really built a world. There is no doubt we’re in 1950s America, even without the cars and bobby socks. Yet it never falls into pastiche. The lack of budget means they don’t go over-the-top with CGI effects, the less is more approach gives it the charming authenticity and naivety of bygone days of storytelling.
Like all good sci-fi, the subtext sells it. Of course, Patterson would have no idea that his film would drop in the middle of an international pandemic. The claustrophobia, paranoia and mistrust of the government in this Cold War set narrative perfectly echoes the current climate. It’s also noticeable the only people who seem to be smart enough to connect these dots are the twee yet intelligent Fay and the African American late night caller.
The story isn’t the most original narrative, but it features a nice twist and a suitably Twilight Zone worthy ending. There is a touch of satire to the script, where the pair talk about the future of technology and what America may look like in the not-so-distant future. The journey is certainly more enjoyable that the final act, but this isn’t a film for those looking for innovative plots and gut-busting twists.
The Vast of Night is a wonderful love letter to 50s genre cinema. The paranoia echoes Invasions of the Body Snatchers, with a hint of the nostalgic pre-social media innocence of Super 8 or Stranger Things.
The Vast of Night is available to stream now on Amazon Prime
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy