DIRECTED BY: Andrew Patterson
STARRING: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis and Greg Peyton
Taking place in one fateful night in New Mexico during the 1950s, a young, winsome switchboard operator Fay and charismatic radio DJ Everett, 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 long forgotten, switchboards and an anonymous phone call lead Fay and Everett on a scavenger hunt toward the unknown.
The Vast of Night is a sci-fi film that marks the directorial debut of Andrew Patterson, whose story focuses on two central characters, a telephone switchboard operator and a local radio DJ, as they try to uncover the truth behind a strange audio frequency whilst the rest of the town is preoccupied with a High School basketball game. After playing over various film festivals last year (Slamdance Film Fesitival, Edinburgh International Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, to name a few), the film has now made its way to being available this weekend on Amazon Prime.
What I felt watching The Vast of Night is, whilst the story is nothing new, Patterson makes it feel fresh with his distinct and precise direction and how he approaches it with slow, methodical pacing in order to flesh out the story. Having it set during the 1950s, in a location of a small town in New Mexico (so around the same area/era as Roswell), the screenplay by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger is dialogue heavily, making you feel that you have to pay attention to every detail and for some scenes, the dialogue feels organic in its delivery thanks to the performances from the two main co-leads. Sierra McCormick is great as Fay Crocker, a bubbly and brainy switchboard operator is is bursting with enthusiasm and ideas when it comes to handling technology, particularly that of a new tape recorder she shows Everett and her ideas of what technology will do in the future. Jake Horowitz is just as equally good as Everett, the local radio DJ who knows he’s getting caught up in something bizarre going on, yet he scoffs more at the idea of it being anything extraterrestrial and more of making good radio that might lead to something bigger for his future. The chemistry between McCormick and Horowitz is what makes the film work, as they play off each other effortlessly and their dynamic is reminiscent of the relationship between Mulder and Scully from The X-Files, with Fay as the believer over what’s occurring tonight and Everett being the skeptic. The sound mixing is very effective here, particularly in the scenes involving Fay operating the switchboard and Everett taking calls on the radio. The costume design work from Jamie Reed is also worth crediting here for capturing the look of people in the 1950s, as well as the Art and Production Design by Adam Dietrich and Jonathan Rudak for the look of small town Americana with the High School and the town area in the night, and the cinematography from M.I Littin-Menz is beautifully done. As for the direction from Andrew Patterson? He’ll be getting a lot of phone calls from studio heads as for this being his first time film and the craftsmanship he puts onto screen, it’s tremendously well done, with the highlight being the dolly shot (a drone shot couldn’t be done that low right?) hurling across the landscape of the town at night, from the switchboard office, to the basketball game, to the radio station and then back to the switchboard office.
The Vast of Night wears its influences on its sleeve, right down to the radio station name being a homage to World of the Wars (WOTW), and to an extent some people might find that off-putting, particularly with its Twilight Zone-esque opening of slowly zooming onto what’s showing on the television, which is where the film takes place in and it uses this technique a couple of times in the film and that could take some viewers out and, to be honest, while I understand the attempt, I can see why some will think it doesn’t add anything to the atmosphere it creates. There can also be a case for the heavy use of dialogue of some of it being overlong (particularly a scene involving Gail Cronauer, though she’s great in it) and, for some, it feels more of a radio/podcast play due to this.
The Vast of Night is a terrific directorial debut from Andrew Patterson, with the film proudly flaunting its influences with the direction, cinematography and sound design making it fresh and effective, and it largely works due to the chemistry and performances by Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz. Patterson is certainly one to look out for.