Available on Amazon Prime Video, there’s a real sense of passion and craftsmanship to “The Vast Of Night”, the debut feature of writer/ director Andrew Patterson. It’s steeped in the romance and aesthetic of fifties and sixties sci-fi and infused with the spirit of Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling and Leslie Stevens. It’s so exquisitely realised that it ends up feeling a little gauche for the film to literally frame its story in an ersatz version of Stevens’ most famous show.
1950s New Mexico, in the sleepy small town of Cayuga, teenage DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) walks his friend Fay (Stella McCormick) to her job as a switchboard operator before starting his own shift at the local radio station. As Fay listens to Everett’s show, the transmission is interrupted by a mysterious audio signal. When she hears the same sound over the telephone lines followed, Fay contacts Everett who asks his listeners to help solve the mystery. When a man named Billy calls the show, Fay and Everett find themselves drawn inexorably into a much deeper mystery.
It’s a well-judged, slow burning character-driven story which is supported by some of the most impressive and inventive cinematography belying the fact this is a debut feature. With the town mostly deserted thanks to the local basketball game, and the absence of today’s ubiquitous and relentless street lighting, Patterson manages to take the night sky and invert the very same creeping sense of dread and fear that Spielberg tapped into in “Jaws”. Only this time, it’s not what’s in the depths that terrifies, it’s what may be lurking in the limitless darkness above. And, like Spielberg’s masterpiece, much of the atmospheric strength comes from what Patterson chooses not to show, allowing your imagination to run riot.
In many ways, the journey through the night taken by Everett and Fay, like all the best sci-fi of the era, allegorically mirrors the looming loss of innocence and horrors to come for an America which had yet to wake up to the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war and everything else that would shake the United States – and the world – to the core throughout the decades to come.
This is a vintage sci-fi fan’s dream of a movie – overflowing with nods and Easter eggs to the rich history of the genre and bolstered by strong performances and some bravura camerawork. Note the names involved in making this movie – we should be expecting big things from all of them in the future.