The Vast of Night (2019) [Slamdance Film Festival 2019]

It’s not often these days I can sit down to watch a film that just transports me in to another place or time. Sometimes the artifice is too apparent, but I tell you “The Vast of Night” transported in me in to another place and time from the moment the movie opened. Andrew Patterson has on his hands a movie that promises to become a genre classic, and I’m glad I was able to watch it during its time at Slamdance. It’s a masterpiece of genre film making and one I was bowled over with until the very end. I am not at all kidding when I say once the film closed, I sat in my seat still and stunned.

Set in a dusty New Mexico town in the 1950’s we meet local DJ Everett as he’s introduced to aspiring audio technician Fay. As everyone in town gathers in the gym to view the big basketball game, the pair finds themselves stuck behind a desk working the radio lines. When Fay receives mysterious phone calls over the switchboard involving sounds and hysterical calls from locals, Fay and Everett team up to broadcast what they’ve learned, and uncover a mystery that runs much deeper and is much more complex than any of them remotely realizes.

“The Vast of Night” opens like an episode of a “Twilight Zone” anthology, and Andrew Patterson doesn’t just use this as a gimmick to set the period. He sticks with this framing device throughout the entire film, even setting some scenes to look as if we’re watching the events unfold through a classic tube television. Patterson has a lot of confidence in the script by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, as he doesn’t just commit to the idea of the fifties aesthetic, but he even brings sheer suspense to scenes set over a radio. It’s not very many movies that can keep you clenching your chair as two characters speak to someone over a radio, but I was hypnotized. Director Patterson even enhances the experience by pulling a bold move during the middle of a key moment of suspense where the screen drops to a complete blackness for at least five minutes.

“The Vast of Night” almost always threatens to drop in to the trappings of a gimmicky bit of nostalgia, but thankfully the script by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger paired with Patterson’s immense direction allow us to drop in to what feels like a void of mystery that we want to see through to the very end. Cinematographer M.I. Littin Menz pulls off some fantastic work, painting the small burb in which these characters run around in as some vast cloak of mystery and history that we only begin to peel the layers from once the film ends. Director Patterson and M.I. Littin Menz commit to some of the most breathtaking scenes of terror revolving around how closely connected this town is, and how ripe for the picking just about every single person is to predators lurking below and above the darkness of the night.

Patterson directs a top notch cast, all of whom project a wonderful dynamic on screen. Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz are especially excellent as the impromptu gumshoes of the film, both of whom are pulled in to a mystery that keeps revealing more and more turns before their eyes. McCormick, as always, steals the show as character Fay, a resourceful girl whose appetite for answers to the mystery keeps her on her feet, and promises to put her in danger the more the story unfolds. Andrew Patterson’s “The Vast of Night” is a wonderful genre picture and a stellar piece of filmmaking; it’s a pure gem that I hope is embraced by film fans.

The Slamdance Film Festival runs every year from January 25th to January 31st.