In a small town of New Mexico during the 1950s, bright switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and local radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) discover an eerie audio frequency that sends them on a scavenger hunt to uncover the truth. Director Andrew Patterson presents a surprisingly self-assured and brilliantly inventive low budget sci-fi thriller set against the backdrop of New Mexico’s rich history of UFO sightings and rumoured alien abductions.
Borrowing heavily from classic anthology shows - think The Twilight Zone - Patterson presents the film in the form of an episode of a fictional TV show titled Paradox Theatre. Although aesthetically pleasing up to a point, this device ultimately adds nothing of value to the story itself.
As the small town of Cayuga prepares for its first basketball game of the year, high school student Fay and recent graduate Everett bond over their mutual love of science and innovation as they make their way to their respective jobs. She is the town’s part-time switchboard operator, while he’s about to take on the graveyard shift at the local radio station.
When she uncovers an unfamiliar audio frequency through the phone switchboard, Fay informs Everett in the hope that he might help solve the mystery. Things are further complicated when an anonymous caller to the station offers to share a story from his past which forces the teenagers to consider the possibility of an imminent alien invasion.
Opening on a long and meticulously crafted sequence of gorgeously fluid camera work and a beautifully precise dialogue, The Vast of the Night manages to be both engaging and unabashedly confident in the way it choses to capture its protagonists. Never lingering on one particular shot, Patterson allows his two main characters to interact naturally throughout.
With more than a hint of nostalgia for simpler more analogue times, Patterson fetishises objects such as AM radios, switchboards and reels of tape in the most fascinating way. Away from the usual jukebox and bubblegum tropes, his version of the 1950s is an altogether more sober one. In his version, women and people of colour are finally allowed a voice, even if that voice has to be an anonymous one.
Elevated by its young cast’s brilliant and near perfect delivery, The Vast of The Night does exactly what is set out to by offering a story full of intrigue, mystery and nostalgia, and it does it all in style. Patterson and writers James Montague, Craig W. Sanger have given a beautiful slice of Americana in a film which has more up its sleeve than the average Hollywood sci-fi thriller.
Available to stream from May 29