The Vast of Night

With almost the entirety of Cayuga, New Mexico’s population at its high school basketball game, sixteen year-old Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick, "Ramona and Beezus") is crushing on WOTW radio DJ Everett ‘The Maverick’ Sloan (Jake Horowitz) as she mans the town’s switchboard.  When the eerie audio signal she’d noticed interrupting WOTW’s news segment also comes in over one of her lines and calls begin to drop, Fay contacts Everett and the two urgently try to unravel what they come to learn is a long standing mystery in “The Vast of Night.”

Laura's Review: B+

This audacious debut from director Andrew Patterson is a case of ‘it’s in the telling, not in the tale.’  This 1950’s sci-fi tale of a possible alien invasion isn’t anything new, but its compelling characterizations, screwball repartee, near real-time staging, stealthy nighttime long shots that traverse an entire town and radio suspense show stylings make for a unique cinematic experience.

We enter the film through the wavy images of a Philco Tandem Predicto broadcasting the opening Rod Serling-like narration of the Paradox Theater television show.  Tonight’s episode is ‘The Vast of Night.’  As Cayuga gears up for a big game, adult high school administrators are fretting over chewed wiring, something Everett has been called to assist with.  He and his portable tape recording machine draw Fay, an endearing combination of science nerd and naïve teenager who hears ‘Breaker, breaker!’ as ‘Bacon, bacon!’  As Everett conducts on the spot interviews in the high school parking lot, he keeps urging Fay into an interview, one in which she regales him with articles she’s read on radio controlled cars, vacuum tube travel and devices people will carry everywhere that will enable them to make video calls.

After Fay hears that weird signal, she calls a friend who’s babysitting who encourages her not to be shy about calling Everett.  He encourages her to come on down, finds the tone on his tape and plays it again over the radio, asking for help identifying it from callers.  The duo get one and it’s a long distance doozy, Billy (voice of former Oklahoma City policeman Bruce Davis) describing a secret military operation he was involved in, one in which only black men, like him, and Mexicans were recruited for, people, Billy says, no one listens to.   As townsfolk begin to say ‘there’s something in the sky,’ a call from Cayuga requests an in person visit and Everett and Fay hear the eerie events which haunt the life of Mabel Blanche (Gail Cronauer, "The Newton Boys"), who is convinced that ‘they are here now.’

Patterson plunges us into 1950’s paranoia with bravura filmmaking techniques which include following characters within that Philco set with desaturated nighttime cinematography (Miguel Ioann Littin Menz, “Resistance”) and, at times, a completely black screen which emphasizes the airwaves of WOTW (those initials are an in-joke, signifying one of sci-fi’s most famous films).  Do not adjust your television set.  In one amazing continuous take, Menz’s camera flies out of the radio station through Cayuga’s empty streets to check in on the game, rising through the bleachers, escaping through a window and traveling back again, a shot that was accomplished in a relay involving a Go-Kart.  Original music by Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer doesn’t lean on the usual Theremin, but utilizes folk guitar that flavors period and place.

Scripters James Montague and Craig W. Sanger have a good ear for dialogue, delivered in increasingly panicked rapidity by Horowitz and McCormick.  Patterson contrasts these two with the deliberate delivery of Davis and Cronauer, who keep us hanging on their every word.  Horowitz adopts just the right level of arrogance for a technically proficient engineer who’s outgrown his surroundings while McCormick wraps her character’s intelligence in a dreamier demeanor, also yearning for possibilities bigger than Cayuga.  In “The Vast of Night” both will get their wish.

Robin's Review: B+

Ambitious reporter-wannabe Fay (Sierra McCormack), has a brand new tape recorder (it is 1958, by the way) and wants to use it to impress Everett (Jake Horowitz) the DJ at radio station WOTW in Cayuga, New Mexico. But, she has to cover the town switchboard for her mom and, when a call comes in, it is not a person but a strange sound that will have a devastating impact on the tiny town. She and Everett must find the why, what and how of that sound in “The Vast of Night.”

This is the feature film debut by director Andrew Patterson and his writing team of James Montague and Craig W. Sanger and they have created a calling card that will, I predict, propel them into a solid filmmaking future.

The story begins on an old black and white TV set as “Paradox Theater” begins, a sci-fi program with a Rod Serling-like narrator telling us about the weirdness of the universe. The old B&W TV show turns to vivid color and a full screen and the detective story kicks in as Fay and Emmett try to get answers to the town’s mystery. Emmett plays the recording over the air, asking anyone listening if they have heard it before.

They get a call from an ex-military guy, Billy (Bruce Davis), who heard the sound decades ago and it was made by “something bigger than an airplane.” Then the get a call from elderly Mabel Blanche (Gail Cronauer) and she gives our young sleuths further clues to follow. The getting there, because of the humor and wit of the filmmakers, is a pleasure.

The young stars, McCormick and Horowitz, are a dynamic duo with Everett the voice of reason and Fay the voice of unbridled enthusiasm, and very endearing, too. They, and the clever behind the camera team, make watching the debut work a real pleasure.

“The Vast of Night” will be available on Amazon Prime on May 29.