May 29, 2020 The Vast of Night (Movie Review)
The radio drama of yesteryear is given a lovely homage in the new Sci-Fi noir flick The Vast of Night, which becomes available on Prime Video on Friday, May 29th, 2020 via Amazon Studios.
Cayuga, New Mexico. Peppy sixteen-year-old switchboard operator, brass instrumentalist, and student Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick: Curb Your Enthusiasm series, A.N.T. Farm series) views fellow student and charismatic local radio personality Everett (Jake Horowitz: A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2014, Adam Bloom 2020) as somewhat of a mentor. On the night of the first high school basketball game of the season, the pair begin playfully rehearsing with an audio recorder to prepare Fay for the world of on-air interviews and live radio.
Almost immediately after they go their separate ways—Everett to the WOTW radio station and Fay to her switchboard—a strange disturbance in the radio and phone frequencies will bring them back together to solve a mystery. What is that bizarre audio anomaly infiltrating the lines across the small, nondescript Southwestern town? Is a catastrophic emergency about to befall Cayuga’s residents?
Clocking in at 90 minutes, The Vast of Night marks an exceptional directorial debut for Andrew Patterson, utilizing a phenomenal screenplay from debut writers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger. Additionally, the film features the acting talents of Gail Cronauer (Texas Cotton 2018, One of These Days 2020), Bruce Davis (All Eyez On Me 2017, Rattlesnake 2019), and more.
In all its B-movie glory, The Vast of Night presents a lo-fi Sci-Fi journey back in time, combining mystery and dramatic intrigue into a wonderfully executed homage to the radio dramas of yesteryear. A smart tribute to the oral storytelling required to bring these stories to life, the film rests upon a splendid screenplay that truly takes its viewers back in time and asks them to listen closely. Foregoing obvious jump-scares and shadow play, instead, this intelligently authored script utilizes subtle clues and cues to detail its eerie narrative. Like a great Easter egg hunt, as the story unfolds, viewers can feel free to hunt down covert references embedded throughout. (Hint: That radio station sure has interesting call letters!)
Framed like a classic Twilight Zone (1959-1964) episode, there are also notes of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg throughout The Vast of Night. Through the careful craftsmanship of cinematographer M.I. Littin-Menz (Hands of Stone 2016, Resistance 2020), simple transitions are made into art. Through the use of one continuous shot, Littin-Menz takes us from Fay’s switchboard, down the main drag, through the yards of Cayuga’s residents, to the basketball game and then beyond. The use of the continuous shot adds an eeriness and a sense of voyeurism, patching two scenes together with an impressive finesse. Capped off with a perfectly understated and often tension-inducing score from Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer, though this is a film that is meant to focus on its dialogue, each individual layer of The Vast of Night is detailed to perfection.
Reveling in its low-budget retro feels, the movie offers a glimpse of the past—one that may even shock some younger viewers who have likely never witnessed a telephone switchboard, or, for that matter, a mid-calf cheerleader’s skirt. These vintage flourishes, however, are merely a cherry atop the delicious sundae that is The Vast of Night. The bulk of the film’s success rests upon the shoulders of McCormick and Horowitz, who do an absolutely phenomenal job in their respective roles. Again, this is a story largely detailed through dialogue—so much so that there are several blank screen scenes.
Working within these confines, both McCormick and Horowitz offer more than just great on-screen acting and fluid body language: they both have perfectly soothing voices; voices made for 1950s radio. Whereas McCormick’s Fay offers a dramatic accent and the vivacious, happy-go-lucky attitude of an intelligent young woman who is open to embracing whatever life tosses her way, Horowitz’s Everett is the charismatic friend-to-all who, through his smooth personality and languid vocal delivery, charms all of Cayuga. Their back and forth is organic and, therefore, fluid, and they allow viewers to believe in the plot that is unfolding.
Bolstering this science fiction based story, both Cronauer and Davis give commendable performances, as well. While Davis’ Billy is relegated to dialogue only, his voice emanates from the radio waves as being calm, collected, but still shake by things that he has witnessed in his life. He sets a tone that is maintained by McCormick and Horowitz in their search, and ultimately achieves some of its most tense moments thanks to Cronauer’s flawless portrayal of Mabel Blanche. Poised and elegant, Cronauer’s Mabel begins to fit pieces of this puzzle together in a monologue that is meant to raise both doubt and hope. For this, she is a stellar addition to the cast and cuts a haunting picture of a woman grappling with her unbelievable past.
The Vast of Night is truly a love letter to vintage Horror and Sci-Fi; a respectful nod to a time when a story was about the quality of its words and the charismatic appeal of its characters, and not its ability to find an ingenious new means of slaughtering a pack of teenagers. Thoughtful in its presentation, from its framing to its impeccable casting, this is a film that has something unique to offer that is intelligently crafted. An exquisite debut for Director Patterson, as well as Writers Montague and Sanger, this film proves that the narrative storytelling of creators such as Orson Welles is still very much alive in 2020. For this, Cryptic Rock gives The Vast of Night 4.5 of 5 stars.