After bouncing around the festival circuit, winning several awards, and playing a few theaters, The Vast of Night finally landed itself on Amazon Prime. With new releases on hold, this 2019 release might be just the film for those seeking a taste of retro-SF.

Cast and Crew

Directed by Andrew Patterson
Written by Andrew Patterson and Craig W. Sanger

Sierra McCormick as Fay Crocker
Jake Horowitz as Everett Sloan
Gail Cronauer as Mabel Blanche
Bruce Davis as Billy
Gregory Peyton as Benny Wade
Cheyenne Barton as Bertsie
Mark Banik as Gerald
Adam Dietrich as Rodkey Oliver
Mallorie Rodak as Susan Oliver
Mollie Milligan as Marjorie Seward
Ingrid Fease as Gretchen Hankins
Brandon Stewart as Sam
Kirk Griffith as Lon Stemmons
Nika Sage McKenna as Daisy Oliver
Brett Brock as Fred Seward
Pam Dougherty as McBroom/Winifred/Jane
Brianna Beasley as Ethel

Premise

A young disk jockey and a teenage switchboard operator become aware of a possible extra-terrestrial presence in a small town in the late 1950s.

Low Point

I know people who love the slow and rambling opening. I see some merit in the gradual setting of the stage and the exploration of the film’s central relationship, the friendship between young radio Everett Sloan and his teenage protégé, the part-time operator Fay Crocker (a sixteen-year-old could get such a job in the late 1950s, especially in a small town).

But it isn’t strictly necessary, even to establish their friendship. And to demonstrate it isn’t necessary, I asked someone who hadn’t seen the movie to watch it as I rewatched it, skipping seventeen or eighteen minutes from the opening frame to Fay’s arrival at her station. It works. We don’t need the slow and rambling opening or, if we do, we don’t need it to last as long as it does.

High Points

Fay’s compelling, isolated scene at the switchboard feels like the start of the movie. As for the town, we see all we need (minus Everett’s smart-guy commentary) in the extraordinary sequence that takes us from the switchboard to the basketball game and over to the radio station where we hear things.

In addition to strong visuals, The Vast of Night boasts sound design that matches or exceeds anything I’ve encountered in films with several times the budget.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 Imagine a time-warped indie director made Close Encounters of the Third Kind as an episode of the original Twilight Zone.

Effects: 4/6 The movie’s low-budget effects work. The lighting, in particular, serves the movie, which relies on suggestion rather than overt presentation.

Acting: 6/6 The leads give such strong performances that I can overlook the muttering nature of the opening sequence.

Production: 5/6 The ability of the filmmakers to create such an immersive cinematic world on a $700,000 budget justifies the film festival hype.

Emotional Response: 5/6 The film builds an intense, suspenseful mood that leads to… An entirely predictable conclusion.

Story: 4/6 The Vast of Night, however, isn’t about that conclusion. It concerns the journey that takes us from a small night in a small town to a cosmic mystery, both terrifying and wondrous.

Overall: 5/6 Patterson’s inventive debut establishes him as director whose future work I want to see.

In total, The Vast of Night receives 31/42

Some behind-the-scenes revelations may be found in this interview.