Title: The Vast of Night
Director: Andrew Patterson
Writers: Andrew Patterson (teleplay), Craig W. Sanger (teleplay)
Stars: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer
The Vast of Night is set in a small New Mexico town in the ’50s. It is late evening. A young switchboard operator sits behind her workstation, connecting the few calls that come in this hour. She is bored. While she is here to work, the rest of the town has gathered for a late-night basketball game. Suddenly, a strange signal can be heard through the switchboard, and she gets the creepy sensation that not everything is as it should be.
Chances are you’ve never heard of the minimalist and dialogue-driven The Vast of Night. This award-winning film first appeared at festivals in 2019 and found its way to Amazon Prime Video in 2020. This was director Andrew Patterson’s first project. The Vast of Night draws inspiration from series such as Twilight Zone and X-Files, as well as Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Being something of a passion project for Patterson, he financed the film in its entirety.
Films about UFOs and encounters with strange creatures from other worlds have been popular in film and television since the 1950s. Fueled by Cold War paranoia, stories about UFO sightings, alien abduction and government conspiracies, and fear of the “strange” or the “other” reached new heights in the decades after World War II. This interest faded somewhat over time but came back in full force with successful series such as The X-Files in the 90s.
The Vast of Night is made on a minimal budget, but you would be hard-pressed to notice. Director Andrew Patterson has made the most out of what he had available while staying within the project’s limitations. The result is something that looks authentic to the period the story is set in. There are no special effects to speak of. Instead, the creepy feeling that something is not quite right and the unfolding mystery that often comes in the form of dialogue and “less is more”, makes this more effective than most other UFO mystery thrillers I’ve seen.
Of course, it wouldn’t work without a convincing cast to drive the story forward. Sierra McCormick plays Fay, the switchboard operator who notices the mysterious signal. McCormick balances the 50s stereotype with a modern and enthusiastic charm that works well for this story. She is accompanied by Everett, played by Jake Horowitz. He is the skeptic of the two, the Scully to McCormick’s Mulder.
The Vast of Night is a visually dark film, where the little light available is used to maximum effect. The story is mainly told through a series of dialogues, often via radio or telephone. One dialogue in particular, where Fay interviews a witness to strange events over the radio, is particularly eerie and chilling. We never see the caller (who is played by Bruce Davis), but this makes it so much more effective. As his story is told, we get the sense of the strangeness and danger that might lurt just around the corner, or in this case, hover just above in the night sky.
The Vast of Night also delivers some impressive camera work. Patterson knows how to use the darkness itself to tell the story. The film doesn’t rely on sound-driven jump scares of “gotcha moments” but instead on the fear of what you don’t see. And it works. Oh my, it works!
This film might not be for everyone. There are no action, no blood and guts. The Vast of Night delivers its scares and chills through the mood it sets from the first scenes. Sound and light, or the lack thereof, make us believe that something unfriendly is coming. And the films trigger our imagination of just who or what this might be.