By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Retro sci fi meets indie, character/dialogue-driven drama in this exciting and riveting thriller. Though that might sound like an unusual mix to some people, cinephiles and science fiction enthusiasts should already know that some of the best genre movies and shows have exceptional writing and compelling character development. Some of the better examples of character-driven genre entries probably come from the 1950s and 1960s when filmmakers were limited by technology and budget constraints. Well, director Andrew Patterson definitely takes a mostly low fi/no frills approach to his feature film debut, The Vast of Night, a thoroughly exciting and utterly creepy science fiction thriller. Patterson draws much inspiration from science fiction anthology shows like The Twilight Zone and blends it with skillfully executed indie film stylings that alow the actors to shine and give outstanding, though demanding, performances. 

The movie begins on what otherwise be just another night in the small town of Cauuga, New Mexico. The era is the late 1950s a time whem both the “red scare” and the space race are fueling the imaginations and fears of the people. Teen friends DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) work their respective jobs as radio host and switchboard operator. Through their night begins mundanely as usual, a bizarre audio frequency not only gives the kids an exciting diversion, it forever changes their lives.

Written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, The Vast of Night delivers sci fi thrills and chills, but keeps its focus mostly on the interactions and dialogues between the two leads and their reactions to the strange happenings and discoveries they make on that fateful night. The character development and dialogues between Everett and Fay could actually be reworked into an entertaining and powerful stage play. The material is that good. However, director Andrew Patterson, cinematographer M.I. Littin-Menz, and editor Junius Tully do some outstanding work to keep the scenes from remaining too static. The filmmakers composed, executed and seamlessly put together sequences of extended takes and shots with a clever and enjoyable framing device. Even though the movie wears its inspirations obviously and proudly, it also stands apart as a remarkable mix of these inspirations.

It is this style of filmmaking and storytelling that allows actors the room to give tremendous performances and I must say that both Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz step up wonderfully. McCormick portrays the sweet wallflower Fay Crocker, a girl who craves a more exciting and fulfilling life outside of New Mexico. She has a bit of a crush on brash and witty classmate Everett, a teen whose life isn’t much mote exciting, but at least enjoys his night job as local radio dee jay. Actor Jake Horowitz has a natural charisma and screen presence mixed with the vocal abilities of a voice talented and the comedic and dramatic chops his character requires here. Speaking of voicework, the movie has a truly amazing vocal turn by Bruce Davis in addition to an emotionally charged and unnerving cameo by actor Gail Cronauer.

The Vast of Night played Slamdance and other film festivals last year where it earned much critical acclaim and created a discernible buzz among science fiction enthusiasts. The film will be available for streaming via Amazon on Friday, May 29, 2020. It is a movie I definitely recommend especially for fans of mysterious and spooky science fiction thrillers.

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