With the accessibility of independent filmmaking, often times filmmakers have chosen to pay homage to the Grindhouse era, and with often varying results. It’s not too often we can sit down to watch a genuinely scary film that pays tribute to the atomic age and the classic anthology series from the golden age of television. Andrew Patterson’s “The Vast of Night” is absolute accomplishment. It’s a movie I reviewed during Slamdance 2019 and have yet to quit talking about or boasting about since it was scooped up by Amazon Video. It’s a cinematic gem filled with horror, mystery, science fiction, and pure suspense that will hook audiences the moment the film begins.
Too often a movie based around this kind of aesthetic can get lost in the dressing and feel like a gimmick, but director Patterson manages to maintain so much of the amazing narrative’s substance. He uses the fifties setting as a means of enhancing the inherent terror and painful mystery that unfolds one dusky evening in a sleepy town in New Mexico, and he manages to accomplish it with such a minimalist setting.
In the twilight of the 1950s, on one fateful night in New Mexico, a young, winsome switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and charismatic radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) discover a strange audio frequency that could change their small town and the future forever. Dropped phone calls, AM radio signals, secret reels of tape forgotten in a library, switchboards, crossed patch lines and an anonymous phone call leads Fay and Everett on a scavenger hunt toward uncovering a horrifying mystery.
While “The Vast of Night” does enhance the experience conjuring up the days of classic television anthologies, Patterson evokes a period piece that’s genuinely compelling from start to finish. Every piece of production is absolutely on point here, from the stunning cinematography by Miguel Ioann Littin Menz, to the near seamless CGI and camera work. There’s also the use of drones that help accentuate the town’s dimensions making it feel so small, yet so vast. It becomes especially daunting to soak in as much of the town is awash in the endless darkness that almost seems to set it apart from everything else around them.
We move with the characters, we learn with them, and we’re left wondering if we want to continue to unravel what they have, at our own peril. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the deceptively simple, but clever and spooky script written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger. Their ability to introduce plot twist after plot twist without losing step with the pacing or momentum of the suspense is excellent, as well as their foreshadowing to what evolve in to chaos.
The film revolves around the performances of Horowitz and McCormick, both of whom manage to not only carry the film but successful add a sense of inherent terror to the mystery that gradually unfolds. The film is set over the course of one night, and the duo is forced to comprehend something that might have always been looming over their small town for years without anyone’s knowledge. Once they begin digging in to the hole involving mystery signals and potential alien activity, it a consistently developing labyrinth of surprises that you’ll have to see through to the very end.
McCormick is especially great as the eager young Fay whose own sense of curiosity and enthusiasm for her job takes her in to an area of her home that she never really knew existed. When all is said and done, she’ll probably wish she never knew it existed, really. Director Patterson is able to side step the monotony by playing around with the film medium, often transitioning through the advent of classic black and white television.
One of the most mesmerizing moments involves Fay and Everett getting a full story about a man’s experience on a military base, all of which unfolds like a radio show sans the picture. That said, a lot of the plot twists depends on McCormick and Horowitz and sell their disbelief, bewilderment, and struggle for comprehension brilliantly. McCormick is especially great as she’s proven to be a wonderful screamer on film, made apparent in 2015’s “Some Kind of Hate” (and this year’s “VFW”), and I hope she does visit the genre more frequently as she’s proven to be a strong actress.
Andrew Patterson’s science fiction mystery watches like an extended episode of something like “Outer Limits,” it’s a fantastic gem of the genre that works as an homage, and meticulously a crafted genre picture.
Now Available on Amazon Prime Video.