VAST OF NIGHT, THE
(director/writer: Andrew Patterson; screenwriters: James Montagu/Craig W. Sanger; cinematographer: M.I. Littin Menz; editor: Junius Tully; music: Jared Bulmer/Erick Alexander; cast: Sierra McCormick (Fay), Jake Horowitz (Everett), Gail Cronauer (Mabel Blanche), Bruce Davis (Voice of Billy), Cheyenne Barton (Bertsie); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Andrew Patterson, Melissa Kirkendall, Adam Dietrich; Amazon Studios; 2019)
“It looks and feels like an episode from the Twilight Zone.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Debuting feature film director Andrew Patterson, formerly doing commercials, amazes with this low-budget 1950s possible sci-fi alien invasion film set in New Mexico (filmed in Texas). He’s doing so much with so little. Patterson is helped by the strong script from writers James Montagu and Craig W. Sanger, the stunning cinematography and great tracking shot by cinematographer M.I. Littin Menz, and the pulsating score by Jared Bulmer and Erick Alexander. It looks and feels like an episode from the Twilight Zone.
In the fictional small New Mexico town of Cayuga, this evening most of the town is excited about a high school basketball game. The nerd teen friends (not lovers), the pony-tailed and the horn-rimmed glasses wearing Fay (Sierra McCormick) and the chainsmoking Everett (Jake Horowitz), each has a night job — she works as a switchboard operator for the telephone company, he works as a D.J. at the local radio station (WOTW-think of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds).
After Fay hears an unidentifiable frequency buzz on the phone line and then having a frantic woman caller yelling in a scratchy voice incoherent things about the sky and her land, and that “we’re going in the cellar,” she calls her fast-talking and thinking friend Everett if he could use this weird stuff at the radio station. He agrees and plays it on the air when she sends it over, and the public responses are overwhelming.
The curious teens get on with tracking the confusing sounds, trying to figure out if maybe its space aliens or the Soviets behind the strange noises. There’s a sense of fear behind their curiosity. It’s clear that something is out there making these noises, but it’s not clear what is. Meanwhile the telephone company is bombarded with calls by those noticing strange things in the sky and Everett is on the air with an ex-army man, the unseen Billy (Bruce Davis), making what could be a death-bed confession that he heard the same sounds while in the service in 1947 and that Mabel Blanche (Gail Cronauer) has a tape recording of it (prompting both to visit her and hear her harrowing tale).
It sets a proper paranoid mood from its attention-getting opening to its enigmatic conclusion, reminding us of the 1947 alien cover-up incident in Roswell and all those great radio shows from the late Art Bell who made much ado about UFOs and aliens among us and government coverups.
The spicy narrative appealed greatly to me, though maybe it could have used a stronger ending. But it was executed so well, that I chose to instead comment on how the filmmaker artfully maintained a constant tension throughout between the teens in their claustrophobic rooms and the townies in the area’s vast open spaces. It’s a nice look back at a slice of Americana, when many B-film sci-fi adventure stories were sneaky good and better than many of the recent cheesy big budget high-tech ones.
REVIEWED ON 6/1/2020 GRADE: A-