The stunning debut for writer/director Andrew Patterson, The Vast of Night is an imaginative and seductively eerie movie reminiscent of The Twilight Zone and Twin Peaks. Indeed, the movie makes no bones about being a straight-out homage to The Twilight Zone right from the beginning, but it easily morphs into its own being as we are sucked into Patterson’s world and characters.
The Vast of Night is set in a small New Mexico town in the 1950s on the night of the first high school basketball game of the year. The whole town is gathering in and around the school gymnasium and we are introduced to a variety of people, in a rapid-fire opening scene that follows Everett Sloan (played by Jake Horowitz) through the gym, interacting with dozens of different people, engaging in Aaron Sorkin-esque dialogue. If you ever needed to look up the term “narrative exposition” in the dictionary, this opening sequence would be there. All at once you wonder why you are listening in on such seemingly inane conversations about squirrels and tape recorders and trombones, but the more you listen, the more you realize that a story is being told, a picture is being painted.
Then, as Everett leaves the gym, accompanied by Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick), a teenage girl who wants Everett to show her how to use her new tape recorder, the film quiets down as the camera settles in to follow Everett and Fay as they walk through the town’s empty streets, listening to their conversation, wondering where we—and they—are going. We learn that Everett is the town’s resident DJ and Fay is the telephone switchboard operator, and as they both settle into their places behind their respective sound boards, something strange happens that engages both of them in a search for a cause.
The tension in The Vast of Night is built in a far different manner than in another Amazon original, 7500. In 7500, the tension comes from knowing what’s going to happen and then, when it finally does, trying to figure out which of the known actions to take. In The Vast of Night, the tension comes from everything that’s not known, from the darkness of the night and the quiet of the town. Two characters walking through darkened and deserted streets. A stranger’s voice on the other end of the line telling a story. An old lady in an old house telling a spine-tingling tale. It all is pieced together like a puzzle, and the common thread is the darkness and the mystery.
The Vast of Night is a gorgeous and evocative film with standout performances all around, especially from Horowitz, who deserves to get a career boost from this film. But it’s the mood, the cinematography by Miguel Ioann Littin Menz, the music by Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmerand, and the writing by Patterson and Craig W. Sanger that grab hold of you and take your mind and imagination to places you might have never expected. Patterson serves notice that there is a new talent in town, and we would all be remiss for not taking note of his arrival.
If you are a Twilight Zone junkie or love small films with big ideas and want to feel like you have discovered an incredibly talented director before the rest of the world does, treat yourself to The Vast of Night. It’s a throwback to so many things, including the art of building tension in a subtle and evocative way.